Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Keeping my depression

Imagine a knife. A dull knife. Imagine your an ant on the relatively blunt blade. On one side is insanity. On the other sanity. Now imagine you're wearing a blindfold and you're being spun and spun and spun. You take the blindfold off. Which side is which?

You take your usual landmarks (what people say, what they do, what you feel to be right) but something isn't quite right. The landmarks don't line up. You know A to be true, cast-iron and without doubt, but someone says B. You trust that someone with your life, you love them and would protect them in everything yet they insist you're wrong.

So you get a plan. This is the way to know which side of the knife lies sanity. And then it turns out that person wasn't actually paying attention and didn't care. So how can what they said be trusted?

And while all this is going on the knife is getting sharper and you're sinking into the blade. Make a choice! And jump! Such pressure....

So you stay on the blade, walking it's length looking for signs, and it starts to hurt as the blade pushes further into you but you can't make choice, it's safer on the blade but eventually you'll run out of blade.

Such is my life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The science of traveling forever

I passed a milestone recently. Not a date, or a place, or a numb of countries. The number of time I've been asked how I can afford to travel for so long. So here it is, as I sit in a gorgeous Boston riverside park, the guide to never having to go home with your wallet between your legs (euphemism for prostitution).

It boils down to paraphrasing Terry Pratchett: longterm travelers spend less.

How much less? Well, ideally nothing. The best days are whe I've been to a museum, eaten and had a great night AND not spent a single penny. I'm not going to bang on about hostels, or cheap flights. Those don't count for this discussion. This is FREEdom. I've done all this.

1) Cultivate friendships

this gets easier the more you travel because you're meeting more people but the eory goes like this:

You're in a hostel and talking to a fellow traveller

"where are you going?"

"I'm working my way to Sydney"

"That's where I'm from. you should come stay"

It's that easy! While you're there you might get free food, free drink, and thanks to one well-cmonnected and lovely person free entry to an entire city's museums. There are few hard and fast rules to traveling but one is 'if you can, help a traveller'. These people have been there, they know how it is. They understand why you're sponging off them. Hopefully. If they don't youll have moved on by the time they get around to saying anything.

I could travel half the world again and neever pay for a bed. Simply by the nature of east vs west most of them are in the US and Australia and I probably wouldn't do it in Asia anyway, certainly not India. There are some lovely people out there.

Honorable mention to twitter: following random people on the public timeline leads to good friends where you are right now!

There's even an official website for doing the same thing:

2) getting from A to B

Hitch. Some people nothing but hitchhiking. I hate it personally but I'll domit if I have to. It's almost a requirement in Africa. I just find standing by a roadside for hours on end terminally dull and then to be stuck in a car with a dude who thinks he half knows your language and wants to tell you about farming subsidies...If you're worried about safety I think it's overstated that hitching is dangerous. I'm still here and I never saw a knife. Nuff said.

Look up carsharing websites online. This I love. Probably as it's mostly in (English speaking) developed countries. I travelled half of Germany with some lovely people.

When in a city learn to walk more than a mile. Do you really need to get the bus or metro everywhere? I once walked 9km with my 20kg backpack partly because I was stupid but also to save €5.

3) filling the hole in your stomach

This was the hard one for me. I love food. Always have. I had to come to accept that food for a traveller can be hard to come by. I've *gulp* missed meals. A lot of them. It's hardly surprising that I've lost weight. I would never suggest rummaging through rubbish bins, that's something I'd certainly never do - I'd rather pay, but look for the good bargains. In my experience you canp pay forum times the price for food but it won't be four times as nice.

Subway offer a footlong sub for $5. $5!. That's an evening meal right there. And lunch. A 'real' meal can be $15-20. Cook your own stuff in hostels. And number 2 golden cast-iron in lead ingots traveling rule:


learn to have no shame. Crisp? Thanks. Want a drink? Don't mind if I do even if I have no intention of staying any longer than I have to and in fact I fully intend to leave straight after just so I don't have to buy you one. Nice as you were.

Beer is a killer for budget. Sad but true. Subsequently I drink very rarely. I've never been a big drinker anyway so it wasn't overly hard for me, coke and tea is far nicer in my opinion (and hey! It's cheaper) but the drink of ultimate choice is water. Straight from the tap please.

Treat yourself now and again but do you need a beer or something with actual taste everyday? Every single one is accommodation for two days in India.

Negotiate, argue, swindle, cheat, pretend to be stupid and hand over the wrong money. Never offer to pay upfront for anything (they might forget - it's happened). Adapt, want shorts in a hot country? Cut some trousers up.

What you doing today? You want to do a tour of that building? You can probably go inside and check it out. Does it look awesome or will it be average and a waste of money? Do the free tours! They're awesome. They make it that way so you'll join on the paid tours. See a tour group? Jump on the end and listen in for free.

Need the Internet? Go sit outside Starbucks on free wifi. If you're feeling really extravagant you may even buy something. Need to make a phone call? Do the same and use Skype.

Be brazen.

And that's before you get to the more dodgy tactics:

Desperate for a nice meal? Have one. Then leave without paying. It gets easier after the first time.

In a museum and it's OMG! $20?? Look for a way past the security guard. There's often one. This very day I saved $7. Half a day in India, right there. (Incidentally thats exactly how I think of money spent: time in India which is the awesomest place on the planet).

Does your hotel have 24 hour reception? Do they lock the door? Did you pay on checkin? If your answers are no, no and no consider getting up and leaving extra early...

And I'd camp far more often if I could find anywhere to actually pitch a tent. I recently found but I've not tried it yet and it seems a bit overpriced for camping in a bloody garden but it may be cheaper than a hostel.

There are ways to travel very cheaply if you have the balls and lack of morals.

(Thanks to Jen, Abby, Brian, Jim, Jin and many others for your fine hospitality)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hell is a roadtrp with 2 german women

So. South Africa. Awesome country. Beautiful. Interesting. Very hard to see anything without a car.

There's a hop on hop off bus you can do which isn't cheap and covers some of the most boring terrain and places you've ever seen. The Garden Route? I'd rather sit in my own garden for a year. In winter.

So, I thought on arrival, order of the day is find some hot foxy chicks to do a roadtrip with. Guys would have been acceptable too, foxy or not. But nothing beats long hours on a roadtrip like long hours on a roadtripdrive when there's the chance, if very vague and remote, of sordid back country sex. So an hour after arriving in Cape Town I'd somehow managed to convince two german women (only one of whom was slightly sexy) to do a roatrip. This was awesome. Save money! Have company! Let's go have sordid back country sex. I mean fun. Fun! Yes!

But it so wasn't. I want to get something out of the way. At the end of this story if you're asking yourself why I didn't leave sooner I wanted to get to Lesotho, where Steven Biko hid out. Getting there and travelling around is impossible without a car (despite the fact I met a very young woman who said she did it but SHE LIED. Obviously).

It just became a constant battle. These were two sisters both in their early twenties, one with a frankly bizarre name. Let's call them Lana and Griswald. Lana was ginger but kind of hot. She was the younger. Griswald was slightly older and a PHD student and was the antithesis of sexy. And she was very boring. I spent most of my time talking to Lana who was interested in learning better English. As time went on though, the position became reversed due in most part to the massively selfish twunty ways of Lana. But that's later.

We weren't allowed the windows open. Ever. We wweren't allowed the air on. Ever. Apparently this causes illness (a wonderful gift of knowledge from their mother). Imagine 3 people in a small car. It got a bit stuffy to say the least.

They were so worried abour food. I'm quite chilled. I'm a big advocate of c'est la via and que sera. Missing a meal doesn't bother me but I will complain to high heaven that I'm hungry. Not this pair. We had to do a 20kn detour back to a shop we passed when they suddenly realised "OMG it's Sunday!". This was midday. I tried assuring them there'll be other shops, other villages and OMG even restaurants!! But they were so bloody neurotic they didn't care.

Which is strange because they hated wasting petrol. If we ever stoped to look at a view the car would go into neutral and we'd jst glide...have you ever glided from 70mph on a flat to negative angled road? You go for awhile...(All these points are leading to a story by the way. One more...)

6am was our time to leave. Not to get up. To leave. If it didn't happen life wasn't worth living. Now, looking back, we got far more done for doing it, I admit it. But the reaction if I suggested maybe leaving at 7...OMG. Hiroshima doesn't compare. I don't know what the Japanese complain about. Lana at 0630 is a sight to behold...which is where the story starts (see the link? see it? I'm awesome I am)

South Africa is bloody cold in th winter. Nobosy expects it but it is. the car was always covered in sheets of ice. So I come out of the hostel with my bag. Lana always made it clear where she was sitting for the day, no questions asked, by putting her coat in the car. Generally on a front seat. Back seat? Noooooo. This one morning she' stood doing something at the car. She holds the keys out to me and says "would you like to drive?". Note the passive aggressiveness. OK I said. I can't be bothered to think when I wake up and certainly not at half past OMG.

As soon as I get in I turn the engine on, heater on full.

She turns the heater off.

"What did you do that for?"? I ask

"It's not hot yet".

I rev the car.

"Can you not do that?" she says.

"Why not?"

"It wastes petrol"

"it also makes it heat up faster"

I rev it once more. I kid you not, she storms out of the car, indeed she runs to...somewhere. And all day long she utters not a word of english. No, she wasn't 12.

Her sister was annoying too. She said the most offensive things and said them all with a smile on her face. Fist. Through. Face. Everything you said she'd deny without cast-iron proof.

"IIt might rain later"

"I do not think so. The weather report last year said it would not until tomorrow..."

And she let Lana walk all over her. They often shared food. Salad boxes for example. And evertytime Lana got to eat it first. Lana held all the food and would pass it back if Griswald asked for something.

Second story:

I'm not going to tell it. I just realised it's a very long story by itself and the details are tedious. The only pertinent detail is that we weren't allowed the radio on. Ever. Or at least not much. The short version is we ended up arguing over 2 euros. 2 euros! I lose and waste more every day! It's at this point I decided I needed to leave ASAP. Luckily we'd already been to Lesotho. And 30 seconds later Lana threw me off the car anyway. Her sister relented and retracted the throwing off half an hour later. So we agreed that when we got to Durban I'd leave. OK.

This was going to be in about 3 days. I can survice until then. It was a very long 3 days.

We're about 100km out of Durban.

"Take this turnoff"

"What for?"

"The airport is down there"

"Why are we going to the airport?" I ask.

"We will drop you off there"

No. No. No.

Luckily I'm driving so I have no fear.

"We agreed you'd drop me in Durban"

"Yes but we won't get to {town I can't remeber the name of} until it's dark"

"Not really my problem. Perhaps we shouldn't have gone to the cat sanctuary that you wanted to go to"

"But it was nice. We will go to the airport. You can get a bus from there"

"What? Are you insane? You do know where we are? It's far easier for you to drive to {town} than it is for me to get a bus from a random bloody airport"

Cue nuclear armageddon in the car. As it turned out they ended up staying in the same hostel as me for the next 2 days anyway. Not that we spoke to each other. We were facebook friends until 3 days into the trip when I felt the need to bitch about them.

I saw them 2 or 3 other times in southern africa and it was always a little uncomfortable. And the older sister always smiled. Eithe she wasn't aware it was uncomfortable or...something else.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Awesome bus journey #342

So I'm on a bus. Surprise! I'd love to know how long I've spent on buses. I reckon at least 3 months of my life. But I digress....

I was in India and it was hot. The bus was crappy and the flies were legion. We're zooming down the only 2 lane highway in the country. I'm reading a book which is quite surprising as I remember it being dark. Not quite sure how I was doing that but let's ignore the inconsistency.

Suddenly the bus jams on it's brakes. Wassup? I think. Looking left there's a lorry that's also stopped and the driver is gesticulating at the bus. Oh, someone's cut someone else up i think.

Now on these buses the driver has a helper. Probably a family member as it's very mafia nepotisic like over there. This one was about 18 and he looked cool in his black shirt. He was giving it large out of the open door - I know! A door! How beaugois! They're yelling hindi backward and forward. it's at times like this, and later, that I wish I was contemptuously retarded at languages.

Suddenly the youth find a metal pole from somewhere, I hate to think he has it handy for just these occassions, and jumps off the bus.

Jibber, jibber, jibber he says.

abber, jabber, jabber say the lorry driver, when suddenly...

THWACK! CRASH! CRUNCH! The youth is kicking three and a hlaf shades of purple out of the lorry. Bye bye goes the side mirror into the ditch. Later goes the actual window.

Wahey, I think (I think a lot), what's going to happen here?

Youth gets back on the bus and off we drive.

Well wasn't that exciting?

Five minutes down the road a car pulls along side and effectively forces us to stop. Now remember this is a) India (lawlessness abounds) b) it's pitch black and c) we're in the middle of nowhere. Anything could happen at this point. We could all have been mouth raped and tied to a tree and the police wouldn't have given a shit let alone known about it. or vice versa.

So, two dudes get out of the car and force their way on to the bus.

Where's the gun? I think. Look for the gun.

They try to pull the youth off the bus while at the same time kicking a vastly increased and proportionate number of shades of incandescent green out of him. He aint having any of it. Where's the pole? I'm thinking. He's fighting back for all his worth. His life is literally at stake. By the way, if this is exciting for you think how I feel.

And then suddenly it's over. The two dudes turn to the rest of the bus, all 400 of us, and say soemthing like (I guessed by the tone) OK, sorry about that everyone. Have a nice journey). And they get off.

WTF?? I was horrified but the Indians were taking it all in their stride. They see this shit every day. Just another day in the craziest country on the planet. it became the answer to every WTF question: I'm in India. Awesome place :)

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