Thursday, December 4, 2014

GEEKING IN SOUTH AFRICA

COMEDY CLUB

Went with Guy and D.D. to a comedy club.  They know the guy who was the master of ceremonies and so he gave them two free tickets.  I paid for mine, it was under $10.

The nachos I had before the show were surprisingly good.  With two beers it came to around $13 including tip.  A pretty cheap night out.

The comedy was alright though there were a lot of 'in' jokes dealing with local politics and such which went well over my head.

They have a small smoking area in which I visited with a guy named Martin.  He didn't tell me but he was the lead act.  I'd told him a couple stories which he thought were very funny and assured me 'they would get a laugh'.

There were only two disappointments in the evening.  First was that I'd wanted to go on stage but they'd already filled their 'open mic' slots.  Despite never having been to a comedy club before I did volunteer to get on stage.  Freakishly outgoing.

The worst thing about the show was the audience.  I've been told that the 'culture' here is very participatory.  When people do things like walk across the stage while someone is performing, talk amongst themselves incessantly and yell things out regularly, I don't think words like 'participatory' or 'culture'.  Different words like 'drunk' and 'assholes' come to mind.

Not the kind of place I'd ever want to have to work for a paycheck.  I felt for the comedians there.

Overall, glad I went for a different  kind of experience but it was way too noisy to want to go back.



SWEETS

The other night, I introduced the concept of cake with ice cream here.

Apparently, these are not normally put together in South Africa.

And I've yet to find any place other than the USA/Western Europe that does what I've termed 'American style pies'.

The pies here contain chicken, beef, etc.

I've heard that 'American style pies' may exist here but they seem to be as common as the yeti.  The closest thing they have here are 'tarts' which are good but seem like compacted pies.



WHAT IS SOUTH AFRICA LIKE

The country has a lot of wild extremes.  They have kindness and heroism such as the people who rescued a Dutch Tourist (read about that here) and they have 'necklacing' which was created here and can be read about here.

I've personally met tons of awesome people (and gamers, yea!) but even the ones who are the most friendly either have been robbed or directly know others who have suffered horrific crimes.



GEEKFEST

By the standards of the USA, it is a small gathering.  All of the various booths can be walked through in less than half an hour.  However, this was only their second gathering.  It should be interesting to see what it's like in a few years.

Although it is primarily merchants selling stuff I can't carry, there was also a large tent for various games, some costume competitions and so on.

Detailed costumes, custom contact lenses...

After walking around and eating some pretty bad (though cheap) Thai food, I ended up hanging out and working a bit at the booth of a friend's girlfriend for several hours until I got taken home.

If I were in to board gaming or able to buy stuff to store at my castle it would have been a bit more interesting.

Fortunately, there were nice people to chat with a bit and I got to meet more of the NERO people.



LOGANISMS

"Telling people I don't own a phone is such a conversation stopper." - Logan.



INTERESTING

Now here's a license plate...


Saturday, November 22, 2014

HOOTERS

DISCLAIMER

The opinions expressed within this blog aren't really Logan's but things Logan has picked up from talking to a variety of people.  My opinions on South Africa are as follows:  I am very grateful to my hosts for allowing me to live here cheaply.  I've met a lot of interesting people and hope to meet more.  That's really all I've got.  I'm just a temporary visitor.



HOOTERS


Warren and Leon took me to a hooters here in Johannesburg, South Africa.  It was pretty much like every other hooters in the USA.  Girls with tight shirts and pasted on smiles trying to be chipper without much luck.

Fortunately, none of us were there to view the women.  We were there to chat about travel.

Both Warren and Leon are pretty well traveled, especially considering they live well away from...well, any where people really want to travel.  It's one thing to travel Europe when you live in say Czech Republic, quite another when you are all the way at the tip of Africa.

Fortunately, the 'load shedding' black outs hit the hooters and the overly loud background music was killed.

Hate music so much.  Conversation is better.

In South Africa, they have a lot of problems which come out regularly in day to day living.  This is different than in the USA where suddenly the house you still owe money on has dramatically reduced in value.

Here, they have massive corruption that causes them to turn off the electricity from time to time.  Since the electrical company has switched from government owned to a 'for profit' company, they've found more money to be made if they don't actually provide a service.

This is so wide spread that there is an ongoing joke about the people of Johannesburg becoming confused if they get to a traffic light that is working.  This actually happened when Leon was driving me around.

Another of the problems is the huge chasm between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.  Something like 80-90% of the population live in shanty towns on subsistence farming, mugging, domestic work and other criminal enterprises.

Every traffic light has either beggars or people attempting to sell things nobody wants.  A common trick is to check out things lying in view within the car.  Should there be anything good, the beggar can either text his buddy or stick a piece of gum to the side of your car.  Within a kilometer or so, a smash and grab takes place.

There is a reason South Africa is easily the most paranoid country of any I've been to in my entire trip.  Nobody is without a story of a friend of theirs getting robbed, car jacked, mugged, stabbed, killed or eaten.

Perhaps not eaten.  I made that one up.

Since we didn't want to get robbed and our corpses violated in unspeakable ways then fed to pigs, Leon took me to one of the places where the 'haves' go.

Montecasino (above and below)

It is a combination of several (live) theaters, shops, a casino and large artificial Spanish village - complete with both day and nighttime skies.

As with every casino I've ever been in, the expressions on the face of the gamblers is one of 'grim resolve' rather than any sort of 'enjoyment'.

It has always confused me when people tell me they have 'fun' gambling.  These people are either the kind who win consistently or are addicted to trying to get something for nothing, ending up with nothing.

I've only met a couple people who make their living by gambling and it seems rough to me.

It was interesting as we wandered around the fake village made of real stone to see just how huge the divide is between rich and poor.

There is a lot of money within this country and mostly in the hands of the few still.  Though the few are mainly white, there are many blacks slowly clawing their way up into the middle classes.

It's a long process.

Unfortunately, something which usually helps is education.

To give an idea of where the education system is in South Africa - if you can afford it - a passing grade is 33%.

When I went to school in the USA, it was 70% and you were considered quite a dullard to score close to that.  Can't image what passing with a 33% is like.


Apparently education won't save the country soon.

Though I'm wanting to get more views on the country, the ones I've gotten thus far have generally not been possible.  Massive government corruption, the entitlement feeling of the poor in wanting government handouts, horrible education and dwindling coffers may be a sign of bad things to come.

Overthrowing despotic leaders is always easier than...keeping the lights on afterward.

We'll see what happens.



VIDEOS

Begging birds
Party
Ululation
TV studio

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

LOGAN ON SOUTH AFRICAN TV

SOUTH AFRICA

After living for a couple weeks in a house sized compound within South Africa, I can say this may be the most paranoid country I've ever resided in.


Just as in the USA buying a house that didn't have window screens would be highly suspect, buying a house without an electrified fence, spikes and other defenses in South Africa is simply not done.

In the USA, having your windows open would let in the bugs.  In South Africa, it would let in thieves and murderers.  Which seem to be common.  Or at least thought of as common.

Typical home

Everyone has a story about a friend of theirs who was carjacked, robbed, shot and so on.  If someone wants your cell phone and pulls a screwdriver on you, you'd better hope it is the right model or they may stab your ass anyway.

A couple blocks from nice homes hidden behind loads of defenses are shanty towns which utilize the age old corrugated metal roofs and walls made from mud, shit and snot.

There are certain directions I've been repeatedly cautioned not to walk toward unless I want the 'full South African experience' - which includes getting robbed then stabbed.

At some point, I'm hoping to interview people (on camera) about this interesting and extremely diverse country.



CORRECTION

I improperly called it a 'transvestite party', it was actually a 'drag party'.  There are a lot of little nuisances I am not yet familiar with.

Who says Logan doesn't admit when he is wrong?



LOGAN ON SOUTH AFRICAN TV

Well, I can't say I've never been on South African TV any more.

Before everyone says "We want to see it" please read the story below.

My wonderful host Guy took me to his work.  He'd gotten permission for me to sit through the creation of what I would term a 'corporate TV show'.  In other words, something for people of a particular company to watch.

It was quite interesting to see the TV show put together from the control room.

Also got to see a couple people 'melt'.  Another way to put it kindly would be to say 'they were very uncomfortable on camera'.  There were also a couple people who 'worked' the camera.  Very interesting.  None of them were professionals, they were corporate.

Found it fascinating.

Compared to American studios of which I have no experience I've been told the South African variety is very small and budget conscious.

After a lunch (payment for my upcoming debut) I got to play the part of a 'security specialist' who was talking about how and why people do piracy in an effort to stop it.  Ironic, considering.

Although I've been told this show will go out all over South Africa, I was playing the 'informant' part - darkened room, voice distortion and so on.  I was instructed not to be 'too animated'.  Hence, they didn't really get the full "Logan experience".

It was my first experience  with the autocue.  That is the 'teleprompter' which shows you what you should be saying.  Guy seemed happy with my reading and we didn't have many takes.  Pretty much when I messed up, I'd just pause for a couple beats then do it again.  A couple days ago I got to see how things are edited and figured that would be easy for the editor to splice together.

We'll see if Guy comes up with something in the future for me to do which we could put up a youtube clip so people can see what Logan looks like on South African TV.

After the filming I got to go have a long chat with their editor.  She was very nice and excellent at conversation.

Overall, it was quite a nice day and for that I must again thank my host, Guy.

While all of this was going on, I kept thinking "How many tourist to South Africa get to have THIS kind of amazing experience?"

I am one lucky fucker.



HIRING PRACTICES IN SOUTH AFRICA

You hire someone under contract to paint for you for a year.  After a year, the contract is up and you let the person go.  A couple weeks later, you realize you need something else painted and hire someone else.

Then you get sued by the person who use to work for you and taken to court.  Why did you not hire them back?

In the USA, the employed usually have no rights at all.  That's on one end of the scale.  Here, the amount of worker 'protection' they have makes me think a) why would anyone ever consider hiring someone here and b) it is probably cheaper to just have the person killed rather than pay an extra six months salary after getting sued because you let them go.

But wait, there's more!

In South Africa, the people who clean your home, garden and so on are simply termed 'domestics'.  Living in shantys (aka shanty towns made from corrugated metal and snot) they make under twenty USD per day.

And they damned well better get a muther fucking bucket for Christmas or there will be 'trouble'.  Serious trouble.

They will become surly.  They will complain to the organization that (over) protects workers.  They will whine for money.  They may even get legal action going against you.

What is this 'bucket'?

It is literally a bucket full of non perishable food.  Because this is so fascinating (and demeaning) I got a picture of it which includes the price and contents.


Here's yer bucket, bitch.  Now, STFU.

Wow, it was a bit of culture shock to me.



PRICES

Bucket to keep your poor workers off your back, about $25

Sunday, November 9, 2014

HOW TO SMUGGLE

ESCAPE FROM TUNISIA

Got up at 5:30AM to get the bus from Hammamet direct to the airport.  I should have gotten up a bit earlier but managed to get a seat on the bus which left at 6AM - as opposed to 6:30AM as I'd been told.  I advise getting there early as it becomes standing room only.

Most of the people actually get out at one of the three stops before the bus station.  It takes about an hour to get to the airport.


At the airport, exchanging the worthless Tunisian currency for something I could legally take out of the country was a priority.  Although they don't have any advertisements notifying people their Tunisian currency can all be seized if they try to remove it from the country, it is a rule.  Fortunately there are several banks in the airport.

They want a receipt from the place you got the money.

Because I know this trick, I'd kept all of the ATM receipts and just loaded them on to the bank guy.

There was no large signs telling people to get their 'solidarity stamp'.  This is the 'sting in the tail' Tunisia hits travelers with as they leave the country - for no reason other than 'we want your money'.  It is a pain and many people were getting turned away from passport control to go find where these things were sold.  I'd already visited the Office of Finance and bought one.


Dollars in pocket, I waited until the Emirates guys showed up for work.  They checked me in for the flight then I hung out with them for an hour or two chatting.  Though I'd been promised by the people who sold me the ticket they would get me good seats, check me in and so on I'd known the promises were bullshit.  Just like the wake up call I'd been promised.  When traveling budget, unless you get something at the time you pay, don't expect it.

Fortunately, the Emirates guys hooked me up with a good seat for both flights.


During the flight, I was chatting to a flight attendant.  Working for Emirates Airline (which has no taxes for businesses), all of the employees are required to live in expensive Dubai.  "You either love it or hate it." she said.

The Dubai airport is what happens when someone with no taste gets hold of thirty three billion dollars.  Want a burger, fries and a drink?  Plan on $30 or more.  I waited for the in flight meal.

Despite everything I'd read on the internet, nobody asked me for proof of onward transit.  This made me a bit sad I'd spent so long forging an airline ticket but better safe than sorry.



SOUTH AFRICA!

After a lot of thought, I'd decided rather than working my way up along the coast, I wanted to come straight to Johannesburg and hang out with Guy and DD.  It wasn't possible without paying more money to switch to the cheaper plane ticket so I hopped a bus straight after landing.

In Cape Town, they have a bus called My Citi.  You buy something that looks like a debit card and take money from that.  Since the card doesn't have your name, it makes a great fake credit card for your 'steal me' wallet.

After taking the My City bus to the bus station, I checked out the lines for the two buses which had been suggested - Translux and Greyhound.  The Translux line was very long.  At the Greyhound counter it transpired that one of the ladies there was a driver for the bus to Johannesburg.  It normally left a couple hours earlier but was running very behind schedule.

The only other passenger on the bus repeatedly contacted my host in Johannesburg (Guy) to let him know of our progress.  Very nice of him.  He said it was extremely lucky I caught this bus.

Although the bus was suppose to arrive at 6:45AM, it actually got there sometime after 9AM.



INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF SOUTH AFRICA

Within South Africa, they have several shanty towns (aka 'shanties') where people live in extreme poverty.  These can be a very short distance away from an affluent neighborhood where all of the properties are surrounded by spiked walls, electronic fences and armed response security details.

Twenty kilometers outside of Johannesburg, we passed a sign that said "Hijacking spot".  What a well organized country!

Despite this level of paranoia, the people I've spoken to have been very kind to me.

On some levels, it is a lot like being in Asia.  I'm still very much the white minority but instead of everyone being Asian, everyone is black.  I don't care so long as I get fed.



JOHANNESBURG

After arriving here and doing some light shopping, I got to attend a drag party (see videos below) at the place I'm staying.  Sadly, I did end up crashing about an hour before the party ended but no real sleep for a couple days had wiped me out.



HOW TO SMUGGLE

Despite the title of this section, for legal reasons I am forced to suggest not doing illegal things.  Do not use my teachings for evil.

That out of the way, here is one way to discourage those annoying searches by the border guards when you go from country to country.

With a 'top loading' bag, the dirty clothing should always be on top.  The more disgusting the better.

While an actual biohazzard should be avoided the guards are human.  They don't want to dig through smelly disgusting laundry.

Aside from the ability to smuggle a couple extra packages of cigarettes, you can avoid having strangers dig through your pack and needing to repack everything.

Most searches are extremely cursorily in any case.  Most of the time it is about body language and not looking like you are freaking out.



VIDEOS

Bus out of Tunisia
Drag Party
The Last Supper (since I was the token straight guy, I got to be Judas)



BIG BAG WEIGHT

12.4 KG.  This is pretty much everything aside from my computer stuff.  Which is heavy.



PRICES

MyCity bus pass one way far enough for the bus station, about $5.

Greyhound bus from Cape Town to Johannesburg one way, about $70 - $10 more for 'business class' which I got.  This was worth it as it is a long, long drive.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

LOGAN ANSWERS THE MOST ASKED QUESTION EVER

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE COUNTRY?

The question most asked is 'what is your favorite country'?  After you've been to more than a half dozen, there is no clear answer.  Since the luster of tourist sites wears off after a couple of days, I've divided it into four categories - food, price, talk and wifi.

Each of these can be a positive, neutral or negative depending on the quality.  If it's not listed, it's neutral.  If all four factors are neutral or unknown, the country is listed at the end.

A note on each:

The restaurant food in most countries is shockingly bland and lacks creativity; this food is rated as 'neutral'.  I've not rated the home cooking - it is a rare treat when someone cooks for me.  The price is rated against the severely limited money I have.  Talk includes factors such as the friendliness of the natives and how many of them I am able to actually communicate with in my limited repertoire of languages.  If the people are unfriendly or I can't find many I can understand easily, I rank this as a negative.  The general scenery is indicated by wander - is it interesting to just walk around the city?  Most places are only for a few days and wander can be a negative if I deem it a bit dangerous.  I don't go by what a lot of other people say as dangerous because they seem to think nearly everywhere I go is dangerous.  Wifi is important to me as it represents one of my primary sources of entertainment.

Disclaimer:  Some are marked as 'friends there'.  These are places I want to visit again however 'talk' may or may not be marked on them.  There are some places which have many good things going for them but I will not be visiting soon due to remoteness, current human rights violations (ie Logan doesn't want to get killed or imprisoned there) etc.

So wait - criticizing your government and or religion was a bad idea?

Bulgaria
Positives: food, talk, wifi


Cambodia
Positives:  price
Negatives:  wander, wifi


Costa Rica
Negatives: talk, wander


Czech Republic
Positives:  wander
Negatives:  price


Egypt
Positives:  food, price, wander

Er, maybe later...

Georgia
Positives:  food, talk (friends there), wander


Germany
Positives:  food, wander, wifi
Negatives:  price


Greece
Negatives:  price


Guatemala
Negatives: talk, wander


Honduras
Negatives: talk, wander

I completely didn't find out why people liked living there.  At all.

Hungary
Positives:  wander
Negatives:  price


India
Positives:  price, wander
Negatives:  talk, wander (interesting and horrible all at the same time)


Indonesia
Positives:  talk, wander


Israel
Negatives:  price


Italy
Negatives:  price


Latvia
Positives:  talk, wander
Negatives:  price


Laos
Negatives:  food, talk, wander

Laos - the big tourist attraction is 'drunken white people on inner tubes.  That's about it.  Oh - and prostitutes that come to your room without being asked.

Lithuania
Positives:  talk, wander
Negatives:  price


Macedonia
Positives: talk (friends there), wander, wifi


Malaysia
Negatives:  price


Morocco
Positives:  wander
Negatives:  food, price, talk


Moldova
Negatives:  food, talk, wander


Netherlands
Positives:  talk, wander
Negatives:  price


Nicaragua
Negatives: talk, wander


Panama
Negatives: talk, wander

This is actually a picture of the bankers that tried to rob me there.  No muggers, just really criminal banks.  Yes, I'm still pissed at Central America.

Poland (yes, was there really briefly, want to go back to visit lots of friends)
Negatives:  price


Romania
Positives:  talk (friends there)


Serbia
Negatives:  price


Spain
Positives:  food, wander
Negatives:  price


Thailand
Positives:  food, price, wander


Tunisia
Positives: price


Turkey
Positives:  food
Negatives:  talk

No, the country.

Ukraine
Positives:  talk (friends there)
Negatives:  food


United Kingdom
Positives:  food, wander, wifi
Negatives:  price


United States
Positive: food, talk, wifi
Negatives:  price


Vietnam
Negatives:  food, talk, wander

Countries which I don't remember or didn't spend enough time in to find out anything about or am completely neutral on include:

Albania
Bosnia
Dominican Republic
Jordan
Slovakia

Logan's brain

For those wondering 'why hasn't Logan done more in western Europe?'  Quite simply, I can't afford it.  You are pretty much looking at a minimum of $100 a day there.  For that, you are going to be eating a meal and staying in either a hostel with a bunch of other people (usually ones who don't know hostel etiquette) and going to a minimum of interesting places.  You won't be staying in a 'quaint little B&B that is just adorable'.  That kind of stuff is usually frequented by old people intent on trying to blow their kids inheritance before they die, people who have 'daddies credit card' or people who have worked for a few years to get a couple weeks worth of vacation time.  Double (or more) the amount of money.  It's not cheap because everyone wants to go there and the prices reflect that.  It also doesn't help that the dollar is weaker than a bad knock knock joke.

The price of getting to see this won't make you say 'ooh la la'...


TRAVELER'S TIP

Horde clear bags.  Use them to store anything you don't want to leak or have something else leaked upon.  Clear means you don't have to open a bunch of bags to find what you want.  Use opaque bags to bag up your trash or choke the life out of those who try to shame you for using plastic bags.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

THE BIG SOUTH AFRICA PUSH

SOUTH AFRICA BACK ON THE TABLE

In the southern part of Africa, detailed research shows you have two different types of travel.  You can spend ten years of the average person's wage for a two week vacation in which everything presumably goes smoothly with campaign while wondering why the locals despise you or travel like the locals do.

Traveling around in a few of the countries there is no treat.  The Chinese came in and built a huge railway system.  While it's true they did foolish things like finish ahead of time to impress their supervisors instead of making sure it worked right and try to use locomotives which were woefully under-powered for the terrain, they did end up making a railroad.  Which regularly needs maintenance because they have things like mudslides there.  But build it they did.  Yes, they had to give them more money to try to keep it running but that rail line is one of the major arteries of the country now.

Why do I bring this up?  Because there aren't many working ways to get around.  The roads suck and are possibly haunted by people to whom robbing you of a few hundred dollars is like anyone getting a year's pay as a windfall.

It had been looking like South Africa was the only country fairly tame to travel through and that I wouldn't need to start worrying about what kind of shots to get - or having doctors falsify records to make it look like I did indeed get the shots.  Which costs an extra $20.

Was it worth it springing for a $600 plane ticket to get there?

I was having doubts but there is a person named Guy who has graciously invited me into his home.  For the price I was looking to spend, I can rent a room - and he'll even throw in food.  Surely, I can save up some money there?

Aside from attempting to turn my hosts into alcoholics, I mean.

So now I'm going looking for airline tickets.



AFTER SOUTH AFRICA?

Probably time to flee back to SE Asia.  Though that may change a bit of research (priceline.com):

JNB -> BKK $580
JNB -> PNH $650
JNB -> REP $1000 (holy shit)

Bit of a brilliant (??) flash - what about heading straight to Indonesia?  I've not been there before.  If I go there I'm going to need to use my forging skills to make 'proof of onward transit'.



HAVING A 'JIM GALFORD' KIND OF DAY

I've got a writer friend named Jim Galford.  He writes actual books you can buy on Amazon.  Go buy them.  Part of the reason it is great to be friends with him on Facebook is his work life is horrible.  It is so 'epically' bad I've been trying to convince him to begin writing screen plays and make a web series (later to become an acclaimed TV series in the style of 'The Office') about his normal days there.  Disclaimer:  I have no idea about his personal life and I'm sure it's very rewarding.  But the horrible stuff that happens to him has the fascination of a slow motion car wreck.

He hasn't yet, but he's weakening.

Any time I have a bad day, I think 'Well, at least I'm probably having a better time than Jim at work'.  Today I felt a little bit like Jim probably does at work.

Here's what happened.

Last night, three different websites wouldn't accept payment from either of my credit cards for airline tickets.  Perhaps they get so many illegitimate credit cards that actual working ones confuse them.

Two options remained.  Go get my Emirates Airways ticket from a travel agent or from the Emirates office in the capital (Tunis).   Research showed me their office was right in the airport.

I'd figured it would be cheaper to go straight to the company itself but I wanted to check out the travel agent first, since it would cost me about 25d ($14) round trip from where I am to the airport.

The travel agent charged an extra 80d for the ticket.  I should have taken it but apparently the rising stubbornness crossed with the falling stupidity for a perfect storm of 'lets just go to the capital'.  Besides, it would give me a day trip.

To a city that smells a lot like Ankh-Morpork.

To get to the capital, you have to get a shared taxi (called a louage) to the city.  This is about 5d.  From where the louage route ends you take a surprisingly cheap taxi for about 6d the rest of the way to the airport.

Once I got there, I discovered the small Emirates ticket office was closed - and looked like it hadn't been open for quite some time.

This is a bit baffling.  In the Arabian areas, Emirates is the premier airline!  How can it be closed?

The information desk sent me elsewhere to a large impressive Emirates office, hidden behind some airport banks.  Naturally, this office was closed with a couple people who had been patiently waiting for about twenty minutes hoping it would open.

Taped to the door was a sign stating the address one must go a few kilometers from the airport if you wanted to buy tickets.

Grilling the information guy he eventually admitted the Emirates workers were probably at their stations checking in baggage and working on boarding the flight.  I went over and told them about the waiting guys and inquired how to buy a ticket.

Turns out there is another office.  It doesn't have the Emirates name but it is a place where I can buy a ticket.

Joy.  Went there.  It's an extra 100d ($55) over the internet price to buy one from them.  Turns out that getting people involved they decide to turn on the ole 'rape you out of some more money' machine.  This is why people will all be replaced with surly robots eventually.

Bite my shiny, metal ass!

By this time, I'm saying 'fuck it, lets get this done'.  Turns out escaping Tunisia might be more difficult than I'd figured.

Well, let's put it on the credit card machine shall we?  Oh.  It's broken.  Allow me to attempt to look surprised.

Having planned in advance for incompetence and ineptitude, I'd brought enough cash.  True it sucked most of my reserve/emergency cash up but now I'm just wanting the hell out.

A thought which will continue to warm my heart is that when I am in South Africa, I'm going to need to buy another fucking ticket.  Isn't that swell?

Today, I learned a valuable lesson.  Any time you get humans involved - even if they work for the company you are flying with - you will get fucked out of a significant extra amount of money.  It's probably best to just suck it up and buy it from a travel agent if the websites don't like your plastic.

Now, I have a print out they claim to be a ticket.  We'll see if it actually works on the day of travel.



TUNISIAN DINAR FOLLIES

Every country I've ever been to is littered (word choice appropriate) with currency exchange offices.  Aside from Tunisia.  They have a couple banks in Hammamet but no currency exchange offices.

The banks will give you dinars but you can't trade in this currency for anything else.

Due to my emergency cash being blasted away buying a ticket out of this... place and their inability to process a simple credit card, replenishing some emergency funds seemed a good idea.

The Tunisian dinar is a 'closed currency' which means it is illegal to take them out of the country.  Also, having any on you when you leave is illegal.  In addition to seizing them, a hefty fine is probably assessed.

But the only place you can get your dinar changed into currency which will be more than a curio is the airport.  As you leave.

Due to the... 'special competency' I've encountered, this makes me very nervous.  I don't want to be stuck with a couple hundred dollars worth of paper.  Naturally, I walked around and talked to banks, the tourist information office and other people trying to get dollars.

Though the people who worked at the banks couldn't tell me why they would not exchange dinars for dollars, some light was shed by Monsieur Lassard - the manager of the hotel.  There is a black market for foreign currencies here.  You must show your plane ticket out at the airport banks to convert currency.

Since having the banks tell me things like "they've run out of dollars" or "the machine for counting bills is broken and they're not permitted to do it by hand" or "fuck you, that's why" is a very real possibility, I'm concerned.



HAIL BILL
Reading it is more fun than making toast in the bathtub.  Not more fun than Bill Murray though.



LOGANISMS

Some countries, like Tunisia, have 'no alcohol sold on election day'.

This is to keep the stupid people from getting alcohol.  All of the smart people stocked up ahead of time.

Can't wait till elections are over...so I can buy some alcohol!





I've come to consider myself the caganer of travel.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

RETHINKING AFRICA

SHOT OF TUNISIA

Here's a fun little slice of Logan's life which illustrates his views on Tunisia.

After awaking to the sound of a sledge hammer working on demolishing part of the building, it was time for coffee.  Headed downstairs to the expensive hotel restaurant.

Normally, you get breakfast with the room but as every breakfast I've ever had thrown in with a room (aside from Dani's Homestay, Indonesia) was absolutely shit, I asked that I just get a big cup of Nescafe.

They complied.  In fact, I even have a special brown colored cup assigned to me.

After a 'is she trying to grow coffee beans?' wait, the girl eventually returned with the cup half full of coffee.  I explained to her the reason I was assigned this cup is so that it can be full of coffee.  She said she would go to get another.  Sadly, nothing distracted her on the way but she seemed to forget anyway.

So I'm sitting down to my half coffee halfheartedly swatting the ever present flies away and blinking in the blowing dust and grit when something the size of my middle finger rushes my leg, climbs it and disappears on my back before I even have time to say "What the hell is that?"

I jump up out of my chair which annoys the flies and begin the ritual "Help, I'm on fire" dance.  This dislodges a very large cockroach which falls onto my chair.  I step on it.  Why didn't I get a picture?  Possibly because my heart was trying to decide if it was time to abandon ship or if it wanted another cigarette.

The manager wanders by and I mention it to him.  "Oh, it is the construction.  Come see."

Sure enough, where the guys are banging away with sledge hammers, several cockroaches are scurrying around.

This is super.

Needless to say, construction started after I'd checked in and paid.  It's stupid to get a hotel within a block of any construction if you can avoid it.

So now I'm on the teeter-totter.  I'm paid up through the 30th here.  Additionally, I need to do more studying on the southern tip of Africa to make sure not only can I find affordable (non-sucky) places but I can travel between the three countries I've selected.  Without hassle.

So the need to stay to do research AND try to save money for the plane ticket which will be about a month of saving.  I suspect once I get to the southern part of Africa it will be a bit more expensive and I won't get to save as much.

Purely from a monetary point of view, staying in this town (apparently the best Tunisia has to offer) for three months would be a good idea, but I've really come to dislike this town.
Some decent buildings and what I call 'artistic flourishes' here and there but mostly it is open trash, reeking sewers, swarms of flies and blowing dust.  Aside from the taxi drivers and beggars the people are pretty friendly though.  Add in the sewer smell and more flies for the full effect in this photo.

Later, I had this rammed into my ass, just to round out the day.


BACK TO WORK ON THE 'AFRICAN THING'

Preamble:  This is all research on traveling around in the southern part of Africa.  If you want to skip to the conclusion, scroll down to Rodin's 'The Thinker'.  (For Americans unfamiliar with art, look for the 'dude who might be takin' a dump').

A new friend in South Africa told me the trains were dangerous.  This is very saddening as travel by train has always been something I've enjoyed.  It brings back a bit of the romance unlike bus which has always felt a bit sterile and modern.  Reading up on the various reviews of train rides, it seems they are still using the stuff the British left there and aside from the crisp sheets everyone talks about the maintenance seems to have gone sharply downhill.

I did check on the trains and they have various luxury '4 day' trains which go from Pretoria, South Africa up to Livingston, Zambia (cutting through Zimbabwe which my research has shown is a bit expensive for me though the locals seem to be dirt poor).  These train sites have something in common.  They don't quote the prices.  Instead, they say "Contact us for pricing!"  This sort of thing has always said to me "We are sleazy operators.  Were we to tell you the price there is no chance you would ever ever contact us."

According to my earlier research the Zambia single entry visa should be about $30 and the Zimbabwe multiple entry it's the only kind you can buy if you're from the USA is $50.  This tells me I'll be dropping $80 plus the tickets of the bus to go from Pretoria to Livingstone.

While I'm sure this is a popular bus route, it seems that finding out how much the tickets cost and who sells them could be a problem.  The bus webpages I've checked thus far say "Oh, we don't have that route" but don't tell me what instead is possible.  Just they travel that direction and are utterly baffled by it.  This fails to instill confidence.

The midpoint of this rather long bus ride is Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  According to h/h, there is all of one place to stay which is poorly rated.  While I'm sure there are more, they don't seem to have heard of the internet yet.

OR

If it is possible to take a really long bus ride from Pretoria, SA to Livingstone, Zambia I could pass through Botswana.  While it looks to be too expensive to stay there, the visa is free.  This would save me $30.  And I've done bus rides significantly longer than the 16+ hours google maps shows.  Note, I realize it is Africa so it could be significantly longer.

Here is how creepy some of the buses are.  One of the most popular is Intercape.  On their site:
So - would you like the praying or non-praying section...sinner?

To me, this sort of thing falls under the 'are you fucking kidding me'?  I just want to give them money and get a ride somewhere.  I don't need to be told about Jesus.  Again.

However clicking on the link told me "Please note that Intercape broadcasts family friendly video material on all coaches, promoting the Christian faith."  It is my experience that nearly all buses seek to annoy the shit out of you with loud music.  Apparently on this bus it will be loud messages from the local god-botherers.  There was only one bus I took somewhere that I can't remember that demanded absolute silence and I came just a bit when told that.  Wish I could remember where.

On a different message board it said: "I took Intercape within South Africa it was quite comfortable. It is a Christain busline so as long as a prayer before and after your trip is okay with you, then I would recommend them."

I'm thinking they might be praying the bus makes it and perhaps a thankful prayer it did make it, but I could be cynical.  I'm also thinking asking an all powerful being to alter his mysterious plans to suit you ("please let me survive even though it is your will I die in a fire") is just so 'needy'.

Also, I would like to point out the only reason they now have 'requirements for travelling cross-border with children' is they are afraid Angela Jolie will come in and snatch up some black children and babies.  OK.  I can see that.

"Yes.  Get Logan on the phone.  Tell him I want to know exactly what kind of 'requirements' they need.  Take care of it."

It would probably be very easy to simply hop onto the Facebook page and ask the folks in the South African NERO chapter "Hey, how do you go from here to there easily on a bus, preferably without Jesus?"  However, in Tunisia Facebook only works 'sometimes'.  No exaggeration.  No idea why.  Just how it is here.  Other pages work fine.  [Note I'm glad I didn't ask them because it would have been the easy way out and my research turned up some interesting wtf's.]

So, I spent the day researching connections.  This sort of research is frustrating and draining.  It seems like a lot of the companies have gone out of business or failed to figure out how the whole 'internet' thing works.  For example,  CR Holdings.  The page I found this bus company on only had a shifty 'send us an e-mail to inquire about stuff'.  When I eventually dug up their webpage a message informed me it didn't exist and the domain might be for sale.  What the hell.

Different page I found states that "All the below tour companies travel at least once a week from Johannesburg / Pretoria to Nata (overnight) and then on to Kasane. One or two companies will go straight to Livingstone."  Dealing with the 'tour companies' is a bit shady because they won't tell you their price upfront.  If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Other pages claim 'you can't get to there from here' and have to go through Zimbabwe because Botswana roads either suck ass or don't exist.  Still other people claim you have to fly.

An enlightening post I read here states:  "For many reasons, there is not a bridge at the border crossing between Botswana and Zambia, only a small ferry. This route serves as a major supply route between ports in South Africa and the interior of Africa and the road coming into the border was lined with trucks. The ferry can only accommodate one 18-wheeler and maybe one other small truck at a time. I have heard truckers can sometimes wait for a week or longer to get across. Luckily, we were able to walk right on. We cleared customs and hired a combi to take us to Livingstone, which is about 60km from the border."

This means I will end up paying the $30 for the visa into Zimbabwe.  No clue what the 'reasons' could be for 'no bridge'.  Smuggling?  Insufficient funds to build a needed bridge?  Incompetence?

It appears it is possible to go from Pretoria to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe).  Found that Greyhound can do that for about $41 (455 rand).  Leave at 9am, arrive at 8pm.

From this (written in 2014!) I learned that: "My husband and I are planning to travel in September, Johannesburg - Bulawayo by Greyhound bus (a little apprehensive as reviews are terrible but there doesn't seem to be another overland option) and then from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls on the overland train."

And from this: "We reached the Zimbabwean border at around 5am and were in for a wait of anywhere between two and six hours to get through, as the Zimbabwe/South Africa border is the busiest in the country. Not simply for refugees fleeing Zimbabwe, but for trucks bringing goods and buses with families bringing remittances trying to get back over to Zimbabwe."

"Hey, you will be passing through a country people are FLEEING from.  Super, huh?"


This is like putting together some sort of fucked up jigsaw puzzle, I swear to Thor.
Except I am no where near as happy as this crazy lady.  In fact, I've never seen anyone even smile when putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  I'm not sure if I've ever been that delighted with an inanimate object.


Note:  According to this Zimbabwe no longer uses their old currency, they use USD.  Good news there.

Train schedule and reviews.  It appears I can get from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls by train, first class for $15, $30 if  I want to rent the entire 'coupe' (two berth cabin).  Very affordable for overnight transportation.  Note:  Get food ahead of time, there is no dining car and/or the food sucks, depending on who you listen to.  Also, you must chase the people down for the $4 bedding.  Everyone has commented things like 'crisp' and 'clean'.  Train reviews here.

Once I am in Victoria Falls, that still puts me 10 KM from Livingstone.  Too much to for me, especially with my stuff.  Yes, I will get to see the falls I suppose from there but my main objective is to cross the border into Livingstone.  After I rest up I can probably get a free shuttle (read somewhere they leave at 10AM) out to look at the biggest waterfall in the world I will probably ever see, say 'neat' and wonder about wifi reception.  By seeing this waterfall, it will excuse me from not seeing other, lesser waterfalls.  Which everyone seems to have.

From this post it also mentions that I will get hit with an extra $30 charge for entering the waterfalls area in Zimbabwe.   It also mentions the visa ends as soon as you leave Zimbabwe.  Fair enough.

Here is a map of the Victoria Falls/Livingstone area.  For some reason, there don't seem to be any places to stay in Victoria Falls.  The only ones I've seen discussed are several hundred dollars per night.  On the other side of the border, Livingstone has a bunch.

This post has the best picture I've seen thus far of the Livingstone Bridge, and it also mentions that taxis are a dollar or two if needed.  They do suggest walking but we'll see what it looks like and how I feel when I get there.

From my research, it seems that Livingstone would possibly be an affordable city to hang out in for a bit and even see the famous 'Victoria Falls'.  Note to self, check out Jollyboys Hostel and find out about 'booze cruises' (near sunset, last for two hours, free alcohol) when there.

From wikitravel, this map seems to indicate a pretty clear course to go from Livingstone to Tanzania.  Next, we'll research to find out if a road actually exists and if so is it serviced by buses and things.

Lusaka - the capital.  At first blush it looks OK.

Kabwe - One of the five most polluted places on this planet!  Lets avoid it.

...And that's about it.  The capital (Lusaka) doesn't look like it has much to recommend it as far as accommodations.  Most seem to be low rated and discuss lack of cleanliness and theft.

If I am stuck staying in Lusaka, this might be a decent place:  Lusaka Backpackers, Mulombwa Close, 31300, Lusaka, Zambia.

Getting to the capital: Mazhandu Family Bus Services is talked about on a couple different sites.  Naturally, their site is down (look shocked!) but wikitravel says it is generally between $13 and $20 (and 7-8 hours) to reach the capital.

From here:  The Zambezi Express: "There is also an express train (The Zambezi Express) leaving Livingstone on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 14h30, arriving in Lusaka at 11h00 the next morning! Yes, 18 hours to travel 570kms – but although this sounds like wasted time – it’s actually a great option because everyone else will be catching the bus so you’ll probably have the whole of first class to yourself and for around $10 you have a bed for the night and can see a bit of real Zambia along the way. It leaves Lusaka on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 19h30 and arrives in Livingstone at 6h10."  [Logan note:  If I wanted to avoid needing to stay in the capital, or was short on time, this would be a cheap option that would include lodging.]

The Tazara Line: "The Tazara Line from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania leaves every Tuesday and Friday at 16:00 and takes 2 days. On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, a train leaves from Kapiri Mposhi to the border town of Nakonde and back, stopping at all main towns along the way. Bookings for the Tazara line must be done a week in advance at Tazara house, opposite the market in Independence Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tel: +260 1 220646. To be safe, ask the station police to escort you to a taxi."  [Logan note:  Apparently the area is so dangerous I need the station police to escort me to a cab.  This does not sound grand.  Also, since the websites for things usually seem to be down (or non existent or sold for magic beans) I have no idea how I would get my ticket 'a week in advance' without staying at the 'we have nothing here' town of Kapiri Mposhi.  According to the TAZARA website, you should book two weeks or possibly a month in advance.  This is a huge deal (built by the Chinese) and there just aren't enough trains for the usage.  For an added cock in the mouth experience, you can't just book online - you have to talk to a specific person via telephone.]


It is upsetting that everything seems to be in Livingstone.  It looks like the capital will just be a one night stop unless the place strikes my fancy.

I wanted to look into train travel because after six hours, buses begin to suck.

Hum.  If I go there, I will probably need a yellow fever injection certificate as well - which will drop another $80 to $100.

Although this is NOT a statue of a 'dude taking a dump' if that is what you are looking for it is 'close enough'.

Conclusions after a day spent going through the countries in detail:

Honestly, I'm not finding a lot of shit I'm interested in.  Going to see a giant waterfall, maybe getting drunk on the boat, check - neat - however sleeping under mosquito netting, not really digging that as much.  It seems the transportation - if it exists - is going to be extremely primitive and such.  This wouldn't be a huge problem but they are charging Eastern European (or much higher!) prices for this shit.

Hence that leaves probably just disease free (well, no shots required so far as I know) South Africa.

Which I'd still like to go to.  Now, I've just got to figure out a way to make that work financially.  Sure, I'm Logan and stuff might change radically once I get into South Africa.  I might meet up with some other travelers who persuade me to come with them on a huge odyssey across the southern part of that massive wild continent.  That could indeed happen.

However...

My body had begun to break down.  My right foot now has a fairly substantial amount of pain when I walk, sporting a limp and moving slower.  My legs are sometimes sporting open wounds from who knows what (though the penicillin seems to be helping clear that up) and I don't know if physically I can do it.

Ah, to be twenty years younger.  Reminds me of a quote Hot Shots. (From Adm. Thomas 'Tug' Benson) "When I look out at you great guys and I say to myself "What I wouldn't give to be 20 years younger... and a woman".

What a great commander.

So, my new new plan is this.  I'm going to do more research on Tunisia and see if there is anywhere here I'd like to visit.  Yes, that does fit in with my mentor's "Stop wasting your visa" advice.

Starting to think if I can tough it out here with rotten food and infested lodging for a couple months (and not drinking other than orange soda with a very infrequent wine bender) then this will allow me to save up the money to fly to South Africa.  From South Africa after I've gotten done visiting with the NERO people there, I can go to somewhere the hell else.  Maybe back to SE Asia.  I've been missing it terribly.



HOW TO EAT MEAT IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY

Though you need not do this with chicken or if you are in an upper class restaurant that serves you a nice steak I'd suggest it within the lower class restaurants.

Use your hands.  Before biting into anything, massage the meat and look for hidden bone chips.

Swallowing one of these is no joke.

Despite having slaughtered and prepared animals for millennia, it seems the locals beat the animals to death with hammers and separate the pieces with a machete from the cuts of meat you are given.


Some penicillin injected into my butt, $2
Fairly bland food, generally $4-7
Uninspiring place to stay, $11
Two bottles of 'attitude adjustment to the positive', $9 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BEHOLD, BUTTER!

DETAIL RESEARCH: SOUTH AFRICA

Before spending over $1200 for flights into and out of South Africa & Pals, I'm doing more research.

Need to be sure I don't get caught up in 'something sucktastic'.  Again.

South African cities that look like they don't suck for pricing:

Durban - plenty of stuff, around 8 eur for dorm bed on up.
Port Elizabeth - good
Kimberly - not listed in h/h
Upington - not listed in h/h
Cape Town - fine
Pretoria - so so - not a lot to see there but there are a couple places and it seems close to NERO South Africa.

Note - avoid Johannesburg, South Africa - does NOT look nice at all in the description on wikitravel.



LONG TERM RENTAL TRICKS:  HOTEL

At some point, attempt to discretely tip the cleaning staff.
"Money?  Either he is a very good guest or attempting to lure us both into his room."

If you think by giving it to the main desk it will somehow magically find its way into the pockets of the cleaning staff, I'm going to label you a tad bit idealistic.  Besides, if you do that, it misses all of the psychological advantages to directly gifting it.

The amount does not need to be a lot, a couple bucks will do.  The initial tip may be the only time you give it to them.

For those who don't know how to tip, you do it before the service.  How people in the USA got into the habit of tipping afterward is a mystery of the clueless.  Seriously - try it out some time.  You know about what your bill will be.  When the waiter/waitress/robot/mutant/other greets you say "Hey, I know our bill is going to be about $40.  "I'm just going to give you your $8 (or whatever) now instead of later.  Thanks for what I'm sure will be a satisfactory evening."  I've known a lot of people who have worked in the horrible food service industry and I don't think any of them would throw the money back in your face and say "To hell with that, I don't want it till after the meal!"  They will take it and know they're not going to be (as they say in the USA) 'stiffed'.   But Logan, how will you know you will get service worth tipping?  Try this method and see if the general level of your service doesn't increase a bit.  Oh but what if it comes out to 18% instead of 20%?  It's a tip - not required - not written in any rule book.  Just give them what you want at the start with that explanation and things will go smoothly.

Getting back to the house cleaners, near the beginning of your stay you should identify who actually does the cleaning.  Out of sight of the front desk, slip them a couple bucks.  If the front desk finds out, they may demand the money from the unfortunates.  Really, this does happen in some places.  Don't ask the front desk about it, never mention it.

Here's the odd thing.  In the countries I stay ('developing') this really doesn't get you any better service.  Weird, I know.  What it does buy you is just a bit of 'good will'.

This good will can pay off in unexpected, unasked for dividends later.

And they will remember you.  How many people do you think actually take the time to acknowledge them - much less tip them?

Probably just you.

So for under $3-$5, totally worth it if you are staying two weeks or longer.  If you go away and come back, do they remember you?  Hell yes they do.

This also works with pretty much anyone who isn't the manager.  After a couple days in the hotel, figure out who you interact with regularly and try to make their lives a bit more cheery.  It's cheap and it makes you feel better.  Aside from the money part.  But better overall.



HOSPITAL STORIES

While I was at the hospital, a screaming kid was brought in.  He had a good 7 cm open wound in the middle of his forehead.  As with all head wounds, it bled like a bitch.

After the kid got patched up, I was talking with an older female member of his family.  "I hope he's OK.  After he gets his scar he can always tell the other kids at school he is Harry Potter."

After she realized who Harry Potter was, she, the rest of the family and the kid cheered up considerably.  It seemed to be very good news for the dazed kid.

I didn't tell him he'd have to fight Voldemort later.

I'd decided to go in to the hospital earlier to have a check on my foot to make sure nothing was broken in there.  Limping around sucks, plus I wasn't able to run.  Not that I would classify myself as a world class sprinter but in 'my line of work' being able to sprint about three meters to the other side of the street can often determine whether 'life' continues to be on my agenda.

For seeing the doctor it was seven denar and another twenty three for the xrays.  Thirty denar is a bit under seventeen US dollars.  Not sure how much it would have cost to pull up to the emergency room and get in and out service within an hour but guessing it would be more.

Nothing was broken.  Better safe than sorry.

Sadly, the doctor got a look at my legs and freaked out a bit.  She is convinced that every time my edema hits (imagine your legs swelling up a bit) then I'm going to have this rather nasty skin rash/disease/pox.  She told me I'd need penicillin every two weeks for the rest of my life.  I started laughing and said I couldn't keep track of two weeks.  Heck, I was lucky to take my medicine daily.

She also wants me to take some days off my foot and just rest.  Again, this doesn't work out because if I don't walk around for a couple hours every day the body wide arthritis torments the shit out of me.  I assured her aside from my 'constitutionals' I'd spend the rest of the time on my fat ass.

She was not pleased.

Of course, the hospital stocked nothing in the way of medicine so I was sent out to a pharmacy.  The doctors didn't think the mention all of the nearby pharmacies shut down from noon till three.

Why do they shut down?  Fuck you, that's why.

Yeah.

With the single-mindedness of an MMO quester and five pharmacies later I'd only found one actually open and  no they didn't carry penicillin.  They tried to send me to a pharmacy that was closed but I was on to their evil tricks.

Tomorrow I will go get the shot in my ass.  The penicillin.  Only that.  You dirty wretches.

Of course, the doctor did slip in some other medicine that actually cost more than the appointment with x-rays so I'll eat through that for the next ten days and see if anything happens other than being out twenty or thirty bucks.



BEHOLD, BUTTER!

Normally, I am not one of those desperate sad people ("I am eating at McDonald's, yum yum!") who talk about their individual meals.

However, this one was so bad - yet good - and very indicative of Tunisian food.

The German speaking waiter convinced me against my better judgement to eat a meal at the hotel.  There are a couple reasons I don't eat at the hotel and the inflated cost is one.

"Only 10 dinars!"  That's under $6 and within my tight ass budget.  ("We're getting ready for the big push!"  Note for this to be an effective quote, you have to have seen the ancient movie "Lawrence of Arabia".)

He brought me out some ignorable bread but oddly, two small packets of butter.

It's been months since I've eaten any butter.  Really.

Four packets of butter, 6 pieces of indifferent bread, one cooked chicken that was warm in the extremities and icy inside making me wonder what the fuck they did to it (not eaten) and some soggy greasy fries later I was done eating.

The little packets of butter were seriously the best part of the whole fucking meal.



TUNISIAN TOOTHPASTE

Never have I, in the heat of passion decided to flip some lucky girl over for a rim job.  Hence, I've never 'eaten ass'.

But Tunisian toothpaste tastes how I've always thought ass might.



TABLETOP RPG IDEA

Oddly, this came to me in a dream.  Thought I would set it down in case anyone else wanted to use it and possibly to remind myself later.  And for the copyright!  Lo, the copyright!  It's all mine.  Send me money.

Anyway, back when I was running tabletop gaming, they had the Dreamlands (Call of Cthulhu RPG).  They had always bothered me a bit because a dream doesn't work quite like that.

Unknown to me, my subconscious had been working on the problem.

The GM makes a deck of cards, writing on blank three by fives.  The cards will include such things as gear, setting, NPC's names, etc.  These cards can be as detailed or general as they wish.  You could even have one which says 'setting' or something more detailed such as 'forest grove' or mega detailed such as 'red quarter of Karnath'.

Each sitting player gets three cards.  The GM deals out three cards (more if they are feeling frisky) and builds his scene with those elements within.

For example:  The GM is doing a fairly standard scene involving an angry troll and the players wanting to cross his bridge.  On both sides of the bridge are thick forest and in the distance the objective of the players, the Dungeon of Doom.  The cards the GM has picked are 'birds', 'horse', 'ballista'.  The GM could describe a horse firing birds with it's ballista, or have the birds turn out to actually be small flying ballista.  The bridge is in the shape of a horse.  This brings in the dreamlike elements.

If the GM brings something up (not the players, nor the players tricking the GM into it) the players can make a card of the thing or place and add it to the current cards in the GM's 'pot'.  In addition, the players can attempt to add one of their own cards to the pot.

Eventually, the GM will announce a scene change.  Each player has the option of either taking a card out of the middle to become one of their three (discard extras) or asking the GM to 'keep that element in'.

Example:  The players had been making friends with the troll and one of the players wrote 'Hruk the bridge troll' on a card and placed it in the GM's pot during the scene on the bridge.  When the GM announced "You guys find yourself in front of the Dungeon of Doom", one of the players announced he wishes to keep the card of 'Hruk the bridge troll'.

Now, the GM could choose to make Hurk flee back to his bridge, join the party, become enraged and attack the party or do something else odd.

By adding in these cards, dream like elements can be added to the game.  The players have a little bit of control (as do some of the more skilled dreamers of real life) but by sticking together (always a problem in RPG's) they can exert more control over the dream.

Monday, October 20, 2014

KICKING A TIME LORD RIGHT IN THE KANICKIES

TRAITS NEEDED FOR A LONG TERM BUDGET TRAVELER

Logan disclaimer:  I do not lay claim to all of these traits on a continuous and ongoing basis but feel they are needed.  Unless you have money.

Ben is here to compensate for all our shortcomings.

Further disclaimer:  This article is written to hopefully help motivate and stimulate people into seeing more of the world than they might otherwise.  It is not to state "Oh, look how cool Logan is.  He sits around some grotty apartment he's rented in a foreign country and plays video games or passes out drunk a lot."  Although that is exceedingly cool...eh...for someone out there, that is not the purpose of this article.

Some day we can just plug in the virtual reality and check the hell out.  That will be a GREAT DAY for humanity.


First, a definition of 'traveler' vs 'tourist'.  When most people go out, they do so for under three months and usually cover a range of areas.  Generally, if you move more often than say a week, you're probably a 'tourist'.  If you go live in a place for months, then on to the next place to live for months, traveler.  It is possible to flip flop back and forth.  For example, when I am in Western Europe, I tend to be a tourist, quickly flitting to the next place due to the unbelievable cost.

Generally, tourists go to see sites.  That's all you have time for.  You may meet some people but won't get any more than a passing first impression as you are quickly off to the next place.  God help you if you have a Lonely Planet checklist.

"Gosh sweetie, which should we check off of our list next?"  "Oh, I don't know - which gives the best bragging rights?"


Desire

You have to really have a huge desire to travel, as mentioned further down in 'why don't people travel'.  There is a huge expenditure of time and money in travel.

In addition to learning where you will go, what you will see, how you will get there, there is also language and customs.  Learning a few basic words ("hello", "thank you") can make interaction flow.  Learning a few basic customs will keep you from looking like a dickhead.

"Let's just pat Thai people on the head to see what happens!  Or show Arabic people the bottoms of our feet!  Hell, maybe give out knives as gifts to the Japanese!"


Caution

A bit of streetwise knowledge and not doing the normal stupid shit people do like leaving their cell phones on the bar then crying like a child when they disappear.   They then lay claim to being 'robbed' or 'pickpocketed'; it makes them look less stupid.  They think.

Happens a lot less than reported.  For insurance reasons.  Not to keep from looking like an idiot.

Gear security and personal safety are always the travelers priority.  If you're not willing to take the time to chain up and secure your gear before leaving your lodging - or wear the amazingly stinky security pouch under your clothing then you run the risk of being one of the tourists (who knows how many) who has to go to the embassy due to having lost passports, money and so on.  The amount of help they can give is usually minimal - a temporary passport and a 'you'll get charged later' plane ticket home.

Yes, I have been to places where I've literally barricaded the door with furniture before I felt comfortable sleeping.  Central America, before you ask.   (Editor:  This is a general bbarricadingthe door picture Logan found.  He used a lot less furniture due to extreme laziness overcoming his survival instinct.)

Learn to minimize your risks.  Don't become a victim due to negligence or stupidity.  I've been one due to both and it sucks.  (Editor:  Since Logan gets robbed generally once a year, he still isn't very good at minimizing his negligence nor stupidity.  And he's about due for another good robbing.)


Respect

It is baffling how many times I've come across travelers who are openly badmouthing the country they find themselves in.  They pass judgement upon it as though they were white explorers in the lands of the savage during the nineteenth century.

"Do you have a flag?"

From all of the whining about how they want things done as they are 'back home', you wonder why they ever left.

A well known phenomenon is during Ramadan in Islamic countries.  Although it is only followers of that faith who are prohibited from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours, it is considered extremely rude to do so in front of them during this time.  You kind of have to 'hide yourself away' whether in your room or if you are able to afford a find resort within their dining room.  Being discrete during this time shows respect.

If you are paying top dollar to stay in a five star luxury resort, you can have things as you want them.  The less you pay, the closer you are to what the locals have.  Most don't want to live below a certain standard.  In India, it is possible to live on a dollar a day - but nobody wants that kind of lifestyle.  Especially those that already have it.

"We have a very special room next to this family dying of some sort of voodoo.  Or Ebola.  We're not really sure - but it's cheap!"


Heartiness

You need a certain amount of physical and mental toughness to travel.


If you have mental problems (various fears or wanting everything 'just so'), have special dietary restrictions (such as being glucose intolerant), insects freak you out, or comfort is a high priority, budget travel is not for you.  Your travel will cost significantly more.

See also, Western Europe!

Sometimes, sleeping in a hard (or broken) chair may be your best option.

You may be stuck waiting in fairly horrible places for hours.  Bus stations and train stations are known hunting grounds for scumbags, robbers, pickpockets, beggars and the police who like to roust Logan to find out if he is or isn't some homeless bum.

Hint:  He is.

You have to be able to hump all of your stuff up several (I've seen as many as five) flights of stairs.  Porters?  Elevators?  Help?  Sorry - you must be thinking of expensive hotels.

How often has Logan had one in his hotel?  ...Never.

Sanitation in many countries is horrendous.  Just yesterday on the streets of the main tourist town in Tunisia I saw a mother encouraging (teaching) her young son to piss on the wall street side.  This is not unusual.

If you travel long enough, you will experience feelings of alienation.  You are always a 'stranger in a strange land'.

Even the best prepared traveler will sometimes have all their carefully laid plans fall to utter ruin.  How do you react?

If you 'rage quit' the little things in life, you'll probably rage quit travel.

Remember, all of the horrible things that happen to you is 'traveling'.  Everything else is just 'sightseeing'.
Not a backpacker, but he is awesome.

What keeps people from traveling?

Lack of desire.  I've never found anyone who is utterly devoted to doing this that hasn't.  Most people have tons of reasons they say they can't but everyone who wants to is doing it.  I've encountered fairly poor people who are traveling with (and homeschooling) their young children.  Quite an education.  I found that inspirational.

Many people spend more time posting how bored they are than I do researching some countries!  Why?  Because 'meh'.


What is the payoff?

Logan note:  This is not meant as "Look what Logan's done" but rather my hope is one of motivation.  If a fat, crippled, lazy alcoholic can do it, so too can you.

You get to have experiences that the short term tourist and package tourist crowd never know.  Meet people, get in deep enough to the culture to get accepted as a native son (or daughter) by the locals.

Just here to see the architecture then get back into our huge tour bus.

Getting to know places both normal and extraordinary on an intimate level.

You get to make a connection to the planet and the people living on it few will ever know.

If you travel for somewhere between two and five months totally alone, you will have doors open in your mind you did not know were there.  I've discussed this with other solo travelers and they have agreed.  People who travel with companions - temporary or permanent - do not have this experience.  I don't know why.  Though these people can intellectually understand the whole 'doors opening in your mind' thing, unless you've had this experience it is like describing how to ride a bike to someone who hasn't.

Feels like...

Travel fills you with a sense of wonder and awe.  It still does me after three and a half years.  If it doesn't, you probably need to settle down somewhere or find a kindly Timelord.

"Right in the kanickies!"



LANGUAGES IN TUNISIA

Believe it or not, many people here (Tunisia, northern Africa) speak German.  I'm not sure why German is such a global language but it is nice to have a bit.

Today, despite my utter uselessness at languages (as Conner S knows), I've had to speak English, German, Classical Arabic, French, Italian and Italian - regularly.  Sometimes several of those in the same conversation.

Sometimes, it is weird stuff that happens.  My sandals were a bit ripe.  I could use them to mug people.  I went to a pharmacy and was trying to explain I wanted a spray for my shoes.

Sign language just wasn't working.  Then I remembered the origin of the word 'sabotage' and said "Sabot!"  Immediately, he understood.

Who says history isn't useful?

(Note to parents, I have not sworn in this so you can show it to your kids and say "See?  History IS useful.  Maybe not the lies they teach you in school but actual history.  Well.  I guess maybe you don't have to pay attention to what your history teacher says.  She always was a lying bit-")

So there you have it!



TUNISIA THUS FAR

I'm in their main 'tourist town'.

Unless you've come to get into the ocean, there is absolutely no reason to be here.

While they might claim to 'many restaurants', they are all serving the same shit.  The food isn't very good.

In short, I've not really seen anything in Tunisia to bring me back.

Aside from the beggars, scam artists and the thrice cursed taxi drivers, the people seem friendly enough.

But I'm going to probably be here for a month.  Working on saving money for 'the big push south'.  This will give me time (hopefully) to save a bit of money for the airline ticket to South Africa and enough time to carefully study it.  I don't want another 'Western Europe' situation where my money is getting bled out of me and I keep hearing Jason Mews yelling "Flee, fatass, flee!"

So I'll make sure that it's cheap enough for Logan there.

The other day I was talking to a tourist who had been to South Africa and he said the blacks there (they don't call themselves anything hyphenated) really really don't  like whites.  "It's not a big deal in the other countries but in some of the clubs I was told I should leave before I got killed.  I tried to explain I wasn't South African but Swiss, but that didn't matter to them."

I found that interesting.

Might cause me to lead off with "I'm from America, the land led by Obama!"

Though I'm not sure if that would help.



TIE INS FROM OTHER BOOKS

Remember, if you are not 'white' and getting ready to go through USA customs, it is best to pre-lube for the cavity search.

This is going to hurt.   A lot.

Be careful not to use too much or it will leak out of your pants.

Should anyone see anything leaking out of your pants, rather than just assuming you have peed your pants from having so many automatic weapons pointed at you, they will assume it is a bomb and stomp it out.

- from "Logan's Guide to USA Airport Security for Non-Whites"



TUNISIAN FOOD

The food in Tunisia can be viewed one of two ways.

Crap or diet.

I'm choosing to look at it as 'diet' food.

From what I can tell, all of the restaurants serve pretty much the exact same food.

Your choices are (and where they are said to have originated):

Pizza (Italy)
Sandwiches (England)
Hamburgers (USA)
Half a chicken and fries (who knows)
Couscous (Maghrebian)

And that's about it.

The only food served from this region is couscous and that's from the region encompassing NW Africa.

Hence, there seems to be no 'uniquely Tunisian' food.

It is baffling.

Here to say I am deeply missing Mexican, Indian and Thai food.



VIDEOS - SEE A BIT OF WHAT LOGAN SEES

Ship Penis
Pompeii 1, 2

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje Bitola Ohrid Struga | Albania: Berat Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples Pompeii Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg

For videos with a Loganesque slant, be sure to visit here and you can Facebook Logan if you wish.

If you enjoy this blog, please donate! Help Logan keep on traveling.