Friday, February 25, 2011

Nomad Chronicals II

Meeting new people on the road has it's ups and downs, highs and lows, positives and negatives. On the positive side, While traipsing around Phom Penh I managed to find three of the coolest people I will ever meet. Sebastian, Hannah and Jae turned out to be awesome friends, and people I will remember for a long time. This is an old story, as I meet new friends in every town I travel to, and make lasting connections, which are important to me. How can this possibly have a negative side, you might ask. Well imagine meeting a person and having the time of your life with them and making an instant connection, yet knowing that in a day or two, you may never see them again. It is probably the worst part of being a professional nomad, having to leave brand new friends all the time. This time will be especially difficult, as I've had such a great time with these three. Sebastian from Germany/Canada will be flying home in 10 days or less, so even if he decides to travel with me until then, well, he is still going to be saying good-bye soon. Hannah from the Uk/Singapore, just taking a day or two break from volunteering at an orphanage in the jungles of Cambodia, is leaving early in the morning. She said she could take another break and maybe come see me, but by then I'll be in Vietnam, or Laos, or who the hell knows where else. Jae, a great girl also from the UK, is going my general direction, so we will probably travel together, at least through Vietnam, but then after that the future is uncertain.
Tonight the four of us went out to have some drinks at a bar that Jae had heard about. She or we had no idea where it was, so when we told the tuk tuk driver what the place was called, we were under his mercy to find it for us. When we got there, we were a little surprised to find that we were smack dab in the middle of a run down ghetto lined with various bars. The unseasoned traveler might have just got right back into the tuk tuk, and told the driver to head back, especially considering all the lively night scenes we past on the way that were full of westerners. But after quickly discussing it, we all concluded that we liked where we were, and wanted to check it out some. None of are keen to touristy locations anyways. I admit that I got a little drunker than I planned, but considering the large time gap since the last time I drank with friends, I had nothing to be ashamed of. After about three games of pool, a pretty good meal, countless drinks, and skipping around to different places, we headed back.
Finding people with the same mind set and with similar goals as me is a pretty difficult task, one that is nearly impossible back home in the States. Somewhere that it is not impossible however, and happens everyday, is on the road. These three new friends share very similar state of minds, and we have a lot in commen. The harsh reality is that at some point, I will be saying advertising to all. My new goal is to keep in contact with people that matter to me. I have been guilty in the past of meeting some of the coolest people on earth, then when it came to say good-by, just cutting ties with them completely.For now on I am determined not to lose these precious contacts, and keep in contact with everyone I meet. I will never meet another person like Hannah for instance, I must keep her close, even from a great distance. This is a lesson to all inspiring backpackers out there. Rule number one: Keeping contact with people you meet is compulsory.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Killing fields of Cambodia

The school house turned into the infamous prison S-21

A torture chamber

The Kamir Rouge photographed all prisoners

Fish net barbed wire were on the balconies, so noone could commit suicide

On the bus to Phom Penh I met a couple guys, one from UK, one from Holland, and we decided to share a tuk tuk to get to a guest house. The next day all three of us get another tuk tuk ride to the S-21 prison museum. For those who don't know about the history of the Pol pot government days here in Cambodia, look it up. In short, it was a mini holocaust where 1.7 million of Cambodia's 8 million citizens were tortured and killed. When the kamir rouge, under the dictator Pol Pot came into town, they converted a school in the middle of Phom Penh into a prison, complete with torture Chambers. They named it S-21, and this was our first stop of the day. It was kind cool to see one of the survivors there, signing his book for people, that he had written about his time in the prison.

Our second stop of the day was the actual killing fields. This place is where the prisoners from S-21 and other places, aftere being tortured, were brought to be executed. It was a sobering experiance, seeing the mounds of skulls, and recently excavated mass graves. I heard it compared to Auswitch (sp?) from the holocaust, by other people there. One of the workers said that when it rains heavily and floods, teeth and other bone fragment from the estimated 8000 bodies, are washed up and exposed, then collected by the crews.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Leaving the coast

 With the men waving, the girls weeping and the dogs howling mournfully, I step onto the bus, not before stopping and doing the Nixon wave to my loyal fans as I embark to my next destination. This town will recover from my leave taking eventually, but it will take many a sorrow full night. OK, I might be exaggerating a smidge, but hey, I did make a few friends. I probably gave out my e-mail and blog info to 10 people. It was kinda awkward when a couple girls wanted my phone number, and I had to explain that I had no phone. Oh well, they can write to me. Now it's time to check out the killing fields of the capital. (can't remember how to spell it, so I call it the capital)

The message lounge

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I'm a poet and didn't know it

My friend Mike wrote a poem about traveling in his blog, and it made me curious if I could too. So I guess he was my inspiration to give it a try.

 Traveling the world on my own where ever I go, I call it home.
 Don't you get lonely? I may be asked. 

 I meet new people everyday, It's no menial task.
 I'll arrive by myself, on the beaches of Cambodia,
 five minutes later, I'm having a beer with girls from Estonia.
 I'll get on a train in Malawi, full of dread,
 Get off in Tanzania, with my new friend Fred.
 I stopped in Pattaya for some food,
 met a guy named Jim, what a cool dude.
 I've wandered the streets of Bangkok, wanting to rest,
 I get invited to a bar, by 6 people from Budapest.
 In the middle of Panama, I got onto a bus,
 By the time I hit the border, I had a new buddy Gus.
 I sometimes get lost, when in Costa Rica,

 but on every corner is a cantina full of senoritas.
 Hanging out in Zambia, can't be beat,
 ton's of Peace Corp Vols, you will meet.
Riding a chappa in Zanzibar, isn't real great,
but that's how I met my London mate.
So when I am asked, don't you get lonely, wandering the land?

I just smile, they just wont understand.
So if you don't believe me, grab your pack.

Experience for yourself, life off the beaten track.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


fermenting fish

After a few days in Koh Kong, I caught a bus for Sihanoukville, the country's only beach scene. By now I am use to crazy bus drivers, and was very entertained by the other passengers as they gasp and "oh my god" every time our bus does something crazy, like push motorcyclers off the road or take turns too quick, or pass other vehicles on blind turns. Once in Sihanoukville, me and four other young travelers agree to share a taxi to get to Victory Beach, where we wanted to find a place to stay. We had heard that Victory Beach was less of a touristy area than the party scene of Serindipity Beach, and that's more to my liking.
We ended up taking a tuk tuk. With 5 people and 5 big bags it was very crammed and for sure a spectacle for the locals. It dropped us off on what we call hooker road, and we walked a ways until we found a good, cheap place. Later on we went out to eat as a big group, and it was nice to have friends again, feel normal. That night they convinced me to go out with them to check out Serindipity, and a great night we had. The good news about drinking in Cambodia is that it doesn't have to be considered in the big spending bracket. After a long night of drinking, I look into my wallet a little apprehensively, only to discover I've spent only $6 all night. Then I have to remember that drafts were only $.50, and vodka-red bulls $1. Life is good (till morning).
The next day I am awake by the crack of noon and decide that renting a scooter will be fun. I rent my 50 cc hog, $5 for 24 hours, and head out. First thing I know, the police are waving me down, pulling me over to the side. They say that I am breaking the law by not having a helmet on and must pay them a fee. I had the helmet hanging on the handle bars, but being I'm in Asia, there isn't one that will fit in the whole country... so there it dangles. I asked them how much the fee was, and they said "what ever was in my heart to give them". Damn crooks. finally I haggle them down from $20 to $5, $7 if they give me a liter of gasoline for the bike, that i saw they had sitting in buckets. So I left them with $7 less, but with half a tank of gas.
From there I made a bee-line down to the beach. It took me a while to find it, but the ride itself was more fun than the beach. I loved riding my scooter around Sihanoukville.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The ultimate hitcher.

from the Internet.. A typical ride for Mary
 I am relatively new to this blogging game, so you will have to bear with me as I once again go back in time and write about something that happened back in Tanzania, that I forgot to blog about.
In Dar Es Salaam I mossied down to the dock one day to check it out and get ferry prices. That is where I met an inspirational old lady named Mary. In my eyes, she was the ultimate hippie; from her dress on down to her demeanor. She was about 60 and had no job, and for the last 20 years had lived around docks and ports around the world, hitchhiking on ships(!) around the globe. At the time I was wondering, ironically, if it was possible to go from Kenya to Egypt by ship, bypassing Sudan. I've heard of it happening. So when she mentioned what she does, I was instantly all ears. I told her that if she would follow me to the nearest drinking hole, I would love to buy her a few drinks just to get her story.

Apparently it was hard for her the first few years "ship hitching", as captains for multi-million dollar ships didn't usually like taking on strangers, for insurance reasons and what not. She said the key to it was to make and maintain contacts in the industry, which she said took her 10 years. She said by that time, she had taken so many rides between Africa and Asia that many many captains and crew knew her by name. She wold just go to the places she knew the captains to frequent when in port, find out who was going her way, or at least an interesting way, then get hired on as a kitchen help or whatever. I was pretty amazed at her stories, don't know too many, well none, that have been to almost all the ports in south east Asia and eastern Africa, with no money. At the time she said she was getting kind of tired of Tanzania, and was thinking of getting over to India. She also wanted to show me how it's done.

We went down to the docks and sure enough we didn't go far when important looking people in captains uniforms and other boat crews started saying Hi Mary! Hi Mary! Every two minutes! She was more popular than Bob Marley. I couldn't believe that all these guys from around the world knew her just by sight. She would respond "Hi Charles, haven't seen you in a few years, hows the wife?" This lady could write a great adventure book with all her stories. It was awesome. Maybe I'll try it someday. That would be an amazing feat, taking a huge container ship over seas.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cambodia bound

Today I woke up at the crack of noon, and decided it was time to check out Cambodia. After eating a hearty breakfast of fried rice with chicken and shrimp, I paid the $1.75 for the meal and headed out. From my guest house, where I paid $5 a night, I walked down the the market area towards the taxi hangout, where I was immediately asked by 5 people "where you go?" and "ok ok we go." They just figured that I was a rich foreigner willing to pay what ever was asked of me. When I refused to follow them and asked how much to the bus station, I got a range of prices that started high, then ended in my favor. The first answer I got was "70 Baht, ok lets go". When I still refused to go, a couple would begin to tell me that they were cheapest in town, it was too far to walk, etc etc. Finally I got the other drivers competing with each other, even stepping in front of one another rudely, and saying "I take you, let's go". Finally I agreed on 20 baht ($.75) and we left. On the way to the bus station, I started to realise that I had just been arguing with these dude for the last 5 minutes over less than a dollar. When I started to feel a slight bit ashamed, I suddenly realized that it wasn't about the money, it was a pride issue. These dudes had me pegged as a dumb, rich tourist, and gave me such price. I on the other hand am no such thing, and had already learned from another traveler how much the going rate for locals is to the bus station. Some people just pay the first price they hear because it's cheap, and that's why these guys can do it so much, make their own price. But like I said before, no self proclaimed, true blue backpacker wants to get caught paying the vacationer prices by another backpacker. It's almost like having your manhood called into question. When I was in Pattaya and decided to treat myself to a comfortable room, that was quit pricey, I later found myself lying to another backpacker at the bar when he asked where I was staying. "Oh, some little dump down the road, very cheap though". I didn't want him to think I was a two weaker or the dreaded "T" word. ( It rhymes with smourist).

A typical minibus scene in Africa

I got into a minibus, the one thing I hated most about Africa, once at the station. I hated them in Africa because they would cram about 30 people into a 12 person van, and take off. the door wont close? No problem, just hang out the door and find something to hold onto. In other words, it was every person's nightmare, who is over 5'6'', and needs leg room. They would charge double for my bag, and usually strap it to the roof or back seat and let it hang out the back hatch. I would be up against the wall of the van, knees to my chest, feet on someones bag, someones bag on my feet, a kid on my lap holding a live chicken up-side down by it's legs, and two people next to me. God help you if it's your stop first. So needless to say, the first time I started to get into the minibus in Thailand, I had something like post traumatic stress at the door, and may have had some ugly flashbacks. However, to my delight, everyone had their own seat, and when it was full, it was full. Once it left it picked up no one, no matter how many people got off. The AC and radio even worked. I took this ride a couple hours south to the southern most border of Thailand and Cambodia.

Customs makes you fill out phoney medical
papers, then charges you

Tomorrow Sihanoukville and the ocean.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My travels

This is where I've neen so far. red is flights, black over-land. Next Cambodia and Vietnam

From Pattaya to Trat

Golden street lamps... not big deal

The path to my room, heavily guarded

Path to my room in Trat



Pattaya Beach Road

After leaving Bangkok, and making a mad dash to the nearest beach scene, Pattaya, I came to some conclusions. 1: I was going to take my advanced diver course once in Pattaya, come hell or high water and, 2: I was just going to relax before hitting the supposed transportation nightmares of Cambodia. However, After hitting town, and viewing the "beach scene" first hand, I quickly realised that these plans had to go. The beach is a tiny one, and that makes for allot of crowding of people on shore and boats off. The water kind of smelled like sewage, and there was allot of trash everywhere. Then I find out that diving in the area is not cheap as reported, but just as much as Zanzibar. So instead, I decided to treat myself to a "nice" hotel ($30) and some good food for a change. Granted the food was Mcdonalds, but I'll tell you what, after months of nothing but the most healthy food, IE rice and fish mostly, A big mac turned out to be the greatest food invention ever. (KFC down the road; i got my eye on you). So after the guilty pleasure feast, I even went to a spa thing. What you do is sit there drinking your beer, and you put your feet in a little pool filled with cleaner fish. thousands of them. They all flock to your feet and nibble away at them, eating away any dead skin or whatever else. It tickles, but it's fun. After 30 minutes, you have some mighty smooth feet. (I don't know why that's important, but ok). The next day I took a bus to Chantaburi, a few hours down the road, where I switched buses and rode a couple more hours to Trat, the whole time with a guy from sierra Leon trying to sell me gems and diamonds. I'm finally in small town Thailand, at the edge of a thick jungle. Its very cozy, and the wifi is free, so I think I'll stay a couple days before hitting the border.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentines day

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.
- Douglas H. Everett
I think I'm slowly becoming a seasoned traveler, as I've noticed a lot of subtle changes in the way I do things now, compared to earlier on in my travels. For instance, when I get to a hostel and ask for a room, I've noticed that Thai hostel owners don't like to advertise their cheap rooms until the rest are full. Ordinarily I would be at the end of my rope and just give in and say ok fine, I'll take it, sight un-seen. Now I have noticed that such behavior is out of the question, and it has saved me a ton of chingy. What kind of self proclaimed backpacker of the world doesn't sort out his options and find the cheapest route? A bad one that's who! Yesterday, the hostel manager in Trat showed me all available rooms, upon my insisting, then when I said no thank you, she showed me some more that where the exact same size, minus a bathroom, for about $5 a night. When I made it clear to her that I was in no hurry, and there where 5 more guest houses on the block, she all the sudden had some empty rooms, that weren't $10 or $15 a night. It was tempting however, it always is, to just take the first thing you see, after a 5 hour bus ride (imagine the 15 hour ones then). Taxis are also very tempting. They can take you straight there, find you a place to stay etc etc. But biting the bullet and taking the bus saved me about $100 today.
Back in Bangkok I once again decided to review my backpack situation and do some upgrading. It's probably the third time this trip, but I like to get it just right. Your backpack and you need to have a perfect relationship on long trips, I've found, considering you will be putting everything you own in this world in her and hoping shes reliable. My new baby has double or triple stitching everywhere, almost guaranteeing she wont rip open when I toss her into a bus, or strap her onto a train luggage rack, or hurl it into the back of a truck. It comes with only zipper openings, not drawstrings like my old one, making them impossible to lock shut. On that note, I also bought three combination locks, and put them to good use. The new bag also came with a nice rain cover that doubles as a "you can't see what I have, so don't try to steal it" cover. It also came with another must for any serious backpacker: An internal frame. It's hard to have buyers remorse when all of this glory comes together with only a $40 price tag. Small price to pay for such an upgrade in the professional nomad status

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Late night entertainment

The other night I was sitting at the bar in my hostel at 4 in the morning with some guys, when this drunk dude stumbles in, hooker in tow. As they were within earshot, we got a little entertainment from eaves dropping on some hooker-client negotiations. He was drunk as hell and slurring some none sense. She was very good looking and clearly irritated by the guy, but eventually I heard the words "fine 200 Baht ($6)" and she led him to a backroom somewhere, him trying to kiss her along the way. Me and my new travel buddies smiled and shook our heads, then went on with our convos and beers. Not 2 minutes later however, the guy comes running out shirtless, begging the bartender for mouth wash. We see the hooker slink away through the door. Wondering what the hell happened, we asked the guy what was up. Eventually, after some blank stares and refusal to talk, the suddenly cold sober Brit came out with just one sentence: "That was no girl, dude." It took a minute for that to register, maybe less for my friends that had been in Thailand longer than me, but then the laughing commenced. I refused to believe it at first, remembering that he/she was pretty damn good looking, mini skirt and all, but eventually I did. My out of control laughter soon turned into my own blank stare at the wall as well, as my friends explained to me that there were many of these lady boys in Bangkok, and not all are hookers. Had I checked one out? Now how do I know? That one was pretty dang convincing. I'm not talking about hookers, I would never mess with them, but what about any of the other girls(?) that I might of smiled at or winked at, and had gotten a response back from? I'll just say that I guess it's a lesson well learned. A hilarious one I'll not soon forget.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

First glimpse

A fish cart. cooked fish, shrimp, who knows whaat all.. But its good

Noodle cart. best food ever. for $1

treasure finding

My friend Gary collects coins from different places around the world, so I told him I would get some for him from each country I go to. When I was bored one day in Tanzania, I asked my new friend, the security guard at my hostel, if he could get me some TZ coins. He laughed, walked 5 feet and picked up an old paint can that was holding the door open, and brought it to me. When I got it open I found it was full of old coins. Apparently the staff and whoever had been putting the coins there for years, whenever they found them. I kept coins from Japan, China, U.K, France, Netherlands, U.A.E, Israel, Germany, Denmark, and many African countries that I never went to. Probably the most rare were coins from Zimbabwe, from before they converted to U.S dallers. They discontinued the currency, and the bills are still sold as souvenirs on the black market, but the coins are just thrown out. Some people told me that finding them is pretty rare, but I got a handful. There was only one American penny in there, so i had to add a few to restore the balance.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hello Thailand

Someone told me that if I got through Africa alone from Cape Town to Zanzibar, then Asia will be a walk in the park. Contrary of what you here about Bangkok being scary and dangerous, I've been here one day, and am in love with it already (and I usually hate big cities). From Dar Es Salaam i flew to Qatar, about 5 hours away. From there I headed to Bangkok, another 6 hours away. Once there, the airport buses going to kho san road where going to be a wait, so I took a taxi. Things where suppose to be cheap here, so I was confused by the $10 taxi fare, but did it anyways, because I was so tired. I soon realised why it was so much however; that being it was about a 45 minute drive. On the way there I was in awe as We drove 80 km/h on smooth highways, and dodged not one pot hole, bicycle taxi or donkey cart. We didn't stop for one person, so as to get more fare money. Not one check point did we have to bribe some drunk soldier to proceed. I silently said "no more Africa". When we got to my street, which was recommended by other backpackers, I was again in awe. Cars cannot go on the street, so I was dropped off at one end. It looks exactly like pictures you see of Bangkok back home. A narrow street, with buildings on each side, seeming like one long building going down each side of the road, and vendors and shops everywhere. It was pretty damn exciting. As I got out of the taxi I expected 6 people to come rushing up to carry my bag, sell me drinks, exchange my currency, take me to my hotel, to be my guide/best friend. I was about to put on my straight face, and get ready to say allot of no's, but then instead, it was nice and quiet. No one seemed to notice at all, and I loved it. No one asked for money the minute I embarked, no one insisted I need a guide. Also, 9 out of 10 people on the street were white and donning backpacks just like mine, wearing flip flops just like mine. ( these $2 flip flops have now made it from southern Mozambique all the way to Tanzania, and now Thailand). Needless to say I was in heaven. Lonely Planet mentioned there being like 3000 hostels on this street, so I just mosied. I found a cool little place in the middle of the hubbub for $5 a night with free wifi and cute workers, and sleep for a few hours. After that it was time to explore the area. Countless food stalls and noodle carts and bbq's, mixed with tents filled with flip flops and books and paintings and tattoo shops and people and fun. Heaven again. No one was going home either. I have no idea what the hell time it is, or day. Pretty sure I crossed three time zones to get here, and my watch was already an hour off from crossing into Tanzania, which I also had to change 9 hours ahead when arriving in AF in the first place, but I guess it don't matter; it's either dark, or not-dark. I hung out until the sun came up, then went to take a nap for a while. Life just doesn't seem like it can get much better right now, I think as I'm falling asleep.

Leaving Dar

On my last day in Dar Es Salaam, and in Africa, the worst robbery occurred yet, to a fellow traveler staying at the YWCA. This Asian guy got into a market cab and headed to the bus station, and on the way the driver went into a back alley and stopped. Two dudes jumped in and beat the shit out of the guy, then at gun point, took him to the ATM and forced him to withdrawal $7000. He put up a fight, and they even shot into the ground threateningly, when he wouldn't give the right pen number. When he came back to the Hostel, his eyes were swollen shut and he was a pretty dejected dude.
Well I had already bought my ticket to Thailand, and was feeling pretty ready to go. That has nothing to do with my experiances in Dar, I've just been hearing so much about Asia. The YWCA seemed like it was turning into a getaway for the recently robbed, newly broke, waiting for funds from home, group. It was sad really. . Atleast five people where there that had been cleaned out, and where waiting for some assistance. I shouldn't let their experiance deter me from going back, and I wont. I could have stayed in better areas, nicer parts of towns, and I need to remember that. I knew the risks and awards of staying in a guetto, seeking the cheapest accomodation, and I would do it again. If others are thinking of coming here, just remember that you can have a whole different experiance. Africa as a whole is an amazing experiance.