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.



LOGAN'S VOYAGE

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TUNISIA

SARANDE PARTING SHOTS (Logan note:  this should have been in the Albanian section but I'm digging through my notebook and discovering parts I missed.  That's what happens when I don't have an editor.)

Like many beach/ocean side towns I've been to, Sarande is a bit grotty and a bit expensive.  I suppose it's because "hey, we've got the ocean!"

If you're not the kind of person who spends a lot of time in or on the water, it's a two or three day town at best.  So why did I remain here for so long?

First, one secret to nearly all seaside towns is the further you go from the water, the more the price drops and quantities of food and drink increase.  Lodging prices drop slightly as well.

Second and more significantly, the Albanians were really nice people.  I didn't meet one who was unfriendly.  Running into that sort of kindness is amazing.

The hotel I stayed at has day laborers hanging out in front.  For those not familiar with the concept, these are very poor men who hope someone will drive up and select them (or a certain number of men) to do a project.  They then get paid a nominal amount of money for the work.  None of them spoke more than five words of English.  Despite that, one of them wanted to buy me a coffee.  I retailiated by buying him a rakia.  Despite having communicated with all of these men with nothing more than smiles and nods for a couple weeks all of them wanted to shake my hand and tell me 'goodbye' when I had my pack on and was headed out.

The lady who sold me the bus ticket even agreed to convert my LEK for EUR and gave me a decent rate.

Like Bulgaria and Macedonia, I feel that if you are traveling with other people and not staying for long, people will miss out on what makes these countries so special.



ENTRY TO GREECE (Logan note:  this should have been in the Greece blog but I was out of my mind with sleep deprivation when I typed that up so missed it.  Sorry.  If a book editor ever takes an interest and wants to make this into a book they can move it so it looks coherent.  Which I'm often not.)

At the Greek border, I was moved up to the front of the line.  I was standing in the middle and the bus driver decided "This guy should be up front".

It probably worked out better for them they did that.

The male Greek border guard spoke very little English.

Guard:  (Bit garbled, sounded like "I like you")
Logan:  "Did you say "I like you?...(pause)  I like you too."

Both that border guard and the one sitting on the other side of the hut started laughing their asses off.

After that, it is amazing how much faster both lines went.



BORDER CROSSING TIPS

Always greet them in English and stick to that language. Even if I spoke the local language fluently, I would just use English when crossing the border.  This causes a lot less questioning, bag searching and so on.  Obviously, if you are actually from that country or they are fluent in English, this won't have the desired effect.

If you can get a border guard to smile or laugh YOU WIN.



FIVE TRICKS TO DEALING WITH FOREIGN MONEY (this is an article that could be dressed up and appear in MyFiveBest however I suspect the owner's computer suffered a meltdown.)

1.  Learn if there is tipping and how much.  People from the USA are the only ones who tip insane amounts.  Most countries either have no tipping or just round up to the next higher amount.  5.11 becomes 5.25 or 5.5.   Some rare cases, maybe 6 but not often.  In countries other than the USA, wait staff are paid a regular wage rather than being expected to live off their tips by evil employers.  If you over tip in foreign countries, you just drive up the prices for everyone.

2.   Keep a day wallet.  If your daily pocket money is say $50 (in whatever local currency you need), that is the only money in there.  This helps keep you from going over budget.  Also, in the unlikely event you get mugged, this is all the money you seem to have on you.

3.  Your credit cards and reserve of money go in a secure pouch worn under your clothing next to your skin.  This makes it fiendishly hard to pickpocket.  In warm climates the pouch will quickly smell worse than your feet so having a secondary one to use while the original is being washed is a good idea.  Some people complain this is uncomfortable but it is less uncomfortable than losing your wad of money, credit cards and passport.  There may be times you need to sleep with this on.

4.  Learn the conversion rate then change it to something more simple.  If the conversion rate is $1 is 1.71, make it 1.5.  You can probably do that in your head.  If not, carry a very basic calculator or use your phone.  If you make the conversion rate 1 = 2, the money will go faster than anticipated rather than a bit slower.  Use whatever works for you but keep it simple.

It's amazing how much of our happiness can be traced to the movement of these little pieces of cloth or paper.  Which seem on the whole not to be either happy or unhappy about it.  Bastards.

5.  Get your money converted before you reach the border if possible.  Coins are completely useless as soon as you reach the border.  In some countries, this is a horrible thing because a coin can equal a couple of dollars and if you have a bunch of coins you either have some expensive collectibles or are out thirty bucks.  Some currencies are tied to the dollar or euro.  Generally, these are worth nothing when leaving the country of origin.  Also, some currencies are illegal to remove from the country.  In general, it is best to convert your money to dollars (if headed home to the USA) or Euros if you want money that has actual value.   At some banks, they won't convert money unless you have an account there or can produce an ATM receipt for their ATM.   Keep your receipts and use ATM's that have actual working banks attached to them when possible.



WEIRD LOGAN SHIT

Has anyone else noticed the 'hit' in 'shit'?  I'm sure there is a funny joke in there somewhere.

Drip coffee (read as 'standard American') doesn't do it for me any more.  Can't stand the taste of the stuff.  Tastes...  Hollow.  These days all I can drink is either the 'muddy bottom' coffees (Greek, Turkish, etc), espresso style or Nescafe.  Amazing how your tastes change when you travel.



BACK TO THE NARRATIVE - ITALY TO TUNSIA

So I'm in Italy and needing to get to the docks.  That sounds simple - but was it?

Hell no.  I think I may have actually had a heart attack en-route.

In Italy, the land of misinformation, I am told the metro didn't start until six AM.  Get there and oh look - it seems to have been going for awhile now.  Super.  I'd wanted to get an early start to make sure I didn't miss the ship and get stuck in the 'money vampire on my neck sucking sucking sucking!' country.

The subway takes a bit under an hour to reach the Spawn Pit of All Evil, also known as the main train station.  This is where the most horrible Italians who are as persistant as flies hang out.  The taxi drivers.  After fending several off (they follow you around you know) I managed to heroically battle my way to the train.

Typical Italian cabdriver...

There didn't seem to be a stop for the port town listed.

Immediately I went to my default of 'harass the locals for information' until I found the correct train.  Was it labeled?  You bet your ass it wasn't.  Turns out it was going much further and that town was the one labeled.  Not really helping the tourist there.  After getting agreement by people not on the train and those on the train that this was the correct train, I settled in for the hour ride.  That would put me there at eight in the morning, a scant four hours before the ferry is scheduled to leave.

Some people are a mystery to me.  They are the ones who think leaving no time between when they show up and their transport leaves is OK.  They want to mess around, sleep in, play with their phones and cry like entitled babies when they get there five minutes late and discover their transport left on time.

Not this guy.

Logan is delighted to sit around bus stations, airports, ferry terminals and any other place needed to ensure not only he is on time but one of the first to get said transport.

Sometimes things fill up and there is no more space.  And 'shit happens'.

Could have been my ferry.  It wasn't but if it were, I would have the decency to pretend to be surprised.

So, I get off the train in the port town.  Yeah.  No names of these towns because a) though it sounds exotic, I know you don't care and b) I can't find them right now.   I ask someone where the port is.

By now, I'm speaking pretty basic Italian.  It's not really that hard.  You can't just put on an Italian accent and say things like "Momma mia, pizzeria!"  That's pretty insulting.  Funny, but insulting.  Assuming you've got a little bit of Latin and pay attention, it's a refreshingly easy language to pick up bits of without studying.

Port is "porto".  Not really that difficult.  Not rocket science, that would be 'scienza missilistica'.

With all my junk I now had a choice.  Hike the reported 1.5 KM (that's about a mile for those still back in the stone age with measurements) or get robbed by one of the taxi drivers for ten euro or more.

I decided to walk.  That way, I could pick up some water and breakfast as well.

Wrong choice!
Something like this generally goes on in my head when I am wrong but there is usually someone around who wants to act it out externally as well.  Very kind of them.

Found a store and was doing the absolutely hilarious knocking over boxes with my over sized backpack on as the shop keeper hustled to sell me a couple liters of water and one of orange Fanta so I'd leave his store.  Well, hilarious to everyone aside from the shopkeeper and I.

Bought some chocolate filled croissants as well.  Those can pass for a breakfast food here.

Then I waddled over to the docks.  By the time I got there, one of my legs was beginning to feel like it was going to give out and I was covered in sweat.

At the ticket office, I was told "No, this is the small boat dock.  You want the OTHER dock."

The phrase "Are you fucking kidding me?" does not translate so I just gave one of those 'death head grins'.

Except I didn't need a mask.  And am a lot fatter.

The poor girl started apologizing and I did my best to dial down my intensity.  Not her fault I don't know what is going on.  Or that this town needs more than one port.

So I had to hike at least two kilometers.  More.  (Editor note:  I checked and it is close to 4 KM total distance.  This does not include me wandering around looking for more locals to ask where 'el porto' is.  Yes, I am aware that 'el' is probably more correct in Spanish but in the condition I was in, it didn't matter.)  The worst thing is that while I was walking, this song kept playing over and over in my head...  (Editor note:  That is a freakishly weird video.)

Arrived to what I hoped would be the correct port and was stopped at the gate.  Turns out I couldn't go the last ten meters until the 'shuttle bus' came and collected me.  They don't like people walking around in the port.

I was a tad bit upset.
Well, not quite this upset on the outside.  Nobody can out over-act Shatner.

Another guy who was waiting for the shuttle asked where I'd walked from and he looked freaked out when I told him from the train station.  Had to wring my bandanna out twice to get most of the water out of it.

My legs were twitching a bit and I had to keep one of my knees a bit straight so it wouldn't collapse under me.

Not doing well physically.  I'd bought a cane back in Macedonia but lost it on one of the buses within a couple days.

When I finally was permitted to ride the vaunted shuttle bus for a very brief trip and deposited in front of the windows, both of them said "Check in".

This about stopped my fucking heart.


There was no time left to go get a ticket elsewhere.  After waiting an hour for the shuttle bus and doing my own personal 'Trail of Tears' (ed note:  The Native Americans had it much worse but Logan was overly emotional at this point) there was only an hour left until the ferry departed.

Fortunately, they were able to sell me a ticket for 75 euros.

All that remained was to pass through customs and on to the ship.

The guards of the great frontier...  Were not there.

Nobody knew where they were.  They were suppose to be there, guarding the border and weren't.  Even the port guards had no clue where they were.

The boat (named Zeus) was there and loading up.  It was obvious it was going to leave on time and...no boarder guards.

By the time they showed up, it was really tempting to do a Fat Bastard.

Because I did have a turtle head poking out and it was making me all emotional.

But that doesn't translate into Italian well and the border guards didn't seem to speak any English.  So I just hoped for speed.

Which I didn't get.

They took so long with my passport concern it would be rejected and me being told I'd have to remain in the land of money rape became a very agonizing concern.

Turns out they were just fascinated with why it was three times the normal size and how many stamps were in it.  I think.

My passport was stamped an I was allowed at last to limp/stagger onto the ferry.  After a quick trip to a bathroom that had no right to be that disgusting before the trip had even begun, I was given a new choice.

The promised land.  Don't get me wrong - I'm sure Italy is great.  If you're rich.

To lay claim to either a section of the couch or an electric outlet and chair.  There was no way to get both so I chose that latter.

Yes, this means I got to sleep in a pretty uncomfortable chair for the evening.  Joy and happiness were mine.

Fortunately, I was so tired from the previous exertions that sleep came easily.  Unfortunately, those same exertions had made me stink like the homeless person I am.

Since there was no wifi to be had on the ship - and I wouldn't have paid for it anyway since ferries haven't figured out that giving customers free wifi just enhances their image because they are back in the stone age - I just watched several shows I'd saved up for times like these.



OTHER ROOMS ON THE FERRY

Like many other ferries, this one had what I think of as a 'stupid tax' room - a casino.  You usually see a couple grim looking people in there giving their money to the machines.  The people never seem to be having any fun nor do I ever see anyone actually win anything.



OTHER PASSENGERS

As one would expect, there were a lot of Tunisians aboard.  They were very kind to me.  One offered me half of his breakfast (an orange or something that looked like one), another offered me water, etc.

In digging through my bag to make damned sure I spent all of the euro coins I had, I discovered three large coins of no real value from other countries.  After a great deal of discussion, I managed to give them to a father to give to his kids.  The kids must have played with them for a good ten minutes before they disappeared.  I felt validated.

Talking to Tunisians is a bit difficult for me.  Although some speak English well, most speak Tunisian, French and Classical Arabic.  And my French isn't very good - yet.  (Editor note:  It will never get very good.)



TUNIS RUN AROUND

Yeah.

It was ugly.

It all started with a cab driver as most ugly stories do.

For ten dinar (about $7) he assured me a hotel room with wifi for under 30 dinar.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a "lie".  But I figured what the hell.  I can risk seven dollars.  After Greece and Italy, it was a gentle buttfuck.  He even went so far to say if he couldn't find me a hotel then the ride was free.  Cab drivers will say about anything to get you into their taxi.

We then proceeded to go to five grotty hotels which were completely booked up of anything less than the 50+ dinar ($30?) rooms.

Screw that.

Eventually, he just kind of pointed at one and gave me a 'there you go'.  Not only did he still want his money but he wanted a tip for stopping at so many.  He got 5 dinars, bargained down from ten.  He did work his ass off, true, but the whole 'result' thing was kind of lacking.

Now they did have two different rooms in this shithole he directed me to.

In one, there was no water at all in the bathroom.  At all.

The second one had some electrical problems.  Like when you turned on the lights or ceiling fan BIG FUCKING SPARKS SHOT OUT.

Wish I was making this shit up.  I just looked at the guy who had shown me these two rooms.  He only shrugged.  He could give a shit.

Well, fuck Tunis!

Fortunately, I'd done a bit of research and discovered a town called Hammamet.  Wasn't sure how far it was from Tunis but it was about a fourth the size (half million people) and much cheaper on the internet.

Screw it, lets go there.

Because I  just didn't feel like I've done enough hiking with all my gear lately, I did another kilometer or two.  I get weird muscle spasms in my legs from time to time from this kind of abuse.  It is super awesome.

Asking around (en fran├žais) I discovered there was a louonge (shared taxi) headed to Hammamet.

The taxi driver earlier had assured me it was 10 dinars for these.  Also a lie, it was half that.  I paid for two spots, one for me and the other for my bag.

"Allons-y?"  I asked the cab driver.  ("Lets go?") and off we went.  Yes, that totally came from watching Doctor Who and yes it does work though it is a bit old fashioned of way to say it.  But I couldn't remember any others in French.

At last the patented Logan Luck (TM) reasserted itself.  Sitting on the same seat on the other side of my computer bag was a very nice man who was half British and half Tunisian.  He not only directed me to a hotel but escorted me there.

And that is where I am typing from right now.

I spent last night in what was the largest room I've ever been in.  Sadly, I didn't get any pictures.  Unfortunately, it was located overlooking their restaurant where - you guessed it - they played music incessantly until after 10PM or so.   Not only that, but the pollution off the street (no emissions testing here) can choke a donkey.

Like this one.  And yes, this donkey is actually one from the streets of Hammamet.

So now I've moved to a smaller room.  It's not perfect but should suit me for a month or so.  Honestly, I've not seen a lot here that makes me want to stay in Tunisia for an extended period of time.  However, I do still need to get my airline ticket for JNB at some point...

I met the manager who took me to a place to get my clothing cleaned.  That was great until the lady asked my religion and when it wasn't Islam got a bit huffy.  I always claim to Buddhist when on the road - better.



PRICES (Hammemet)

Small beer, 2.5 d
Large beer, 5 d
Laundry, 5.5 d
Water, .6 d
Fanta, liter 1 d
Room, normally 35 d but will be negotiating tomorrow if I like it.  My objective is to get it down to 20 d (a bit over $10 per night) so that I can afford to stay here for awhile.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ITALY

ARRIVAL TO ITALY

Italy seems best suited for people who like to travel with large groups of people they may eventually come to be lifelong friends with or despise forever.

Disembarking the ferry, there were two taxis and two buses.  The taxis immediately filled up and left.  The tour buses were for group tours.  Nothing for me.

I walked my ass out of the docks.

To those of you who have never been to a shipping dock before, that sentence may not strike you with the appropriate force.  Carry your twenty kilos plus for a couple football fields (American or soccer, doesn't matter) through thronging traffic and contradictory directions to get a better feel for it.

Eventually, I was sent to a travel agency called "Morfimare" outside of the docks.  The old man whose job was apparently to make sure nobody lugged the building off - and no more - told me that nobody was there who could help me but 'an agent' would be back at some indeterminate time.

Hopefully, not this agent.

After twenty minutes a guy showed up and confirmed that it is the Salerno docks I needed for the 'big push' into Tunisia.  The agent directed me to a 'one euro' (ed note actually 1.5 Euro) bus to take me to the train station.

A cabbie offered to take me for just ten euro because he wanted money.  I told him 'no, gratis'.   He went away which is more than I can say for most cabbies in Italy who have much in common with the leech in that they won't let go.

Unless you apply fire to the cabbies.  Which is awesome.


On some, but not all of the buses (check!) you need to buy a ticket then get it stamped in the bus via a machine.  Who the hell buys a ticket from the bus driver then is accused of not paying due to not stamping?

Why Logan, of course.



ATTEMPTED DEEP DICKING BY THE ITALIAN BUS COMPANY

Sitting there with all of my luggage.  It's obvious I am 'just passing through'.

A couple guys from the bus company get on and want to see my ticket.

They tell me (in rapid Italian) that since it is not stamped, I should bend over and prepare to be fucked with a huge fine.  The bus was stopped and one guy popped out, probably to find a cop to have me arrested.

Logan:  "Oh, this needs to be stamped?"
Evil guy:  "Yes."
Logan:  "Is there actually a machine on board to do that?"
Evil guy:  (points at machine)
Logan:  (examines machine).  CLUNK!  (Holding up the ticket)  "Perfecto, yes?"

The bus representative just rolled his eyes in exasperation.  It was now a 'my word against his' thing and I already had other plans (contact American embassy, make them or myself look foolish, decry the bus company for preying on innocent well meaning tourists who obviously did buy a ticket and were not going to be trying to reuse it) but since I was not being physically detained I grabbed my shit and headed for the exit.

The bus driver said (and had the look of) "Good one!" on his face.

Rather than saying "Yes, I really fooled those guys and got away with something." I just kept up the "I'm a stupid tourist" and said "Huh?"  I even managed to cock my head with a perplexed look.

Since I was near the bus station, I then 'disappeared into the city'.  I didn't want these guys coming after me.



HOW TO DISAPPEAR

Instinctively, people believe a simple matter of distance is what determines if you 'get away'.  You have to overcome this.  Also, don't flee 'up'.  It use to work when we lived in the trees but now if you go up you are often just fucked.

It's about choices and corners.  The more corners you can turn to cut off the persons vision of you and the more choices they have to make ('did he go left or right?') will determine whether you have gotten away or are still being pursued.  Most people won't put that much effort into pursuing you for some minor infraction.  If you jay-walk, it is a desperate lonely cop that will chase you down for a kilometer.

Walk, don't run for the nearest corner.  Round it.  Then you can begin figuring out 'left or right' and play that game on your own.  Sometimes, just rounding that initial corner may be the difference between any pursuit or the pursuer thinking 'fuck it, he's gone'.



BUS BUS FUCKING BUS!

Long story short, I'd bought a ticket for the wrong bus.  It didn't come to where five different people told me it would, so I had to go back to the ticket office to get a ticket for a different bus which did come to...the same place the other didn't.

Ain't that a bitch?

It was maybe six hours of waiting.  The street people thought "Why the hell is this American guy homeless?"  Yes, they really did.

Now, in any other country I've been in, you can wait in the train station.

Not Italy.

Their train station is infested with such scum (taxi drivers, pickpockets, drug users, serial rapists and possibly even American bankers) that they have to flush all of the shit into the street every night.

So the train station closes.
And the ferry station closes.
And the metro line stops.
And the whole city shuts down.

Aside from the worst elements in society.

I had to find a place to stay and quick.

Fortunately, I'd written down a hostel.  It is one of the highest rated in the area.  For two nights, it's about 40 euros.


Getting to the hostel involved getting packed tight into a subway with a bunch of drunken high school or college age students, then dropped off in an area described as 'bad' by my local contacts.  This was really the only option because the extremely handy 'connected with the train station' hotel was a shocking 100-130 euros.

So I'm at the hostel which is yet another high density feed lot set up.  No idea how many beds they have but they get a lot of groups of thirty or more people.  The hostel has the charm of a bedpan and is about as clean.

Downing a couple of three euro beers, I chatted with some Italian school teachers who were on vacation.  The fact they are staying here I take a proof that school teachers are wildly underpaid here as well.

They mentioned Pompeii was closeby (an hour or two) away and cheap.  Less than 8 euros to get there and only 11 euros to get in.

Obviously, I had to go.  Despite feeling 'shattered'.

This hostel (the cheapest beds) has no privacy.  The bathrooms are pretty much unisex (since they are unlabeled) and the showers are so small that you have no choice but to get a naked Logan in the bathroom preparing to go shower.  I just thought about the movie "Starship Troopers", shrugged and got a shower.






POMPEII

Tourists bring their baggage of banality and stupidity with them where ever they go.

Since I'm just as interested in people as a bunch of old ruins, I paid attention to the other hordes of tourists.

Heard a lot of stupid shit being said.

Usually people were just bitching about how hot, tired, sore, uncomfortable they were.

The winning comment was given by some lady who asked "What kinds of stuff did they make in the old days?  Like, volcanoes?"

Can't make this stuff up.

Aside from the tour guides, I didn't hear anyone talking about Pompeii or anything historical.  Usually it was more along the lines of where to buy cheap phone cards.

Sad.

Important safety tips:  Strollers, flip flops, heels are all bad choices here.  I recommend sneakers at a minimum.  Better would be extremely comfortable hard soled shoes.  Believe me, nobody looks good after a couple hours baking in the ruins.  If you are extremely fair skinned, a sun parasol for the women and a bit of 'hardening the fuck up' for the men is recommended.



BLACK PEOPLE

I was chatting with some during my long ass wait.  It's weird, they seem mixed right in to the population here rather than incarcerated.   It's different from the ole USA!

Afraid so, Mr. President.



NOTE TO SELF

Do not go around grabbing the locals and demanding to know "Who runs barter town?!?" due to massive sleep deprivation.

They don't know anyway...



OFFICE HOURS

It is often frustrating when tourist things (such as 'tourist information kiosks' etc) keep 'normal business hours in places with high densities of tourists 24 hours a day.  Makes you wonder 'what the hell?'



BEGGARS

Always resist the temptation to hand women who display their (or a borrowed) baby to you begging for money to just give them a condom.  While it is true they are dressed better than I am and demonstrably have had sex more recently, it would not be a 'classy' thing to do.



THOUGHTS ON TRAVEL IN EUROPE

After going through all of the shit I've gone through here (with more to come), I'm now thinking for most people the best way might be to get an 'all inclusive package tour'.  The kind you go with a guide who does all of the hard travel work, like figuring out where the hell your bus has wandered off to.  Yes, you'll pay a premium for it but avoidance of the stress of travel and wasting hours and hours waiting for transport might be a good thing for people on a strict time table.

For me, I think I'm done with Western Europe unless I suddenly come in to a very large amount of money and need to spend it quickly.  When money looms over me the whole trip the shadow it casts just dims all the wonders too much.



ALTERNATIVE VACATIONS THOUGHTS

Most people like to try to do the 6 countries in 10 days type of vacations.  Though the number of countries and amount of time vary, generally people are rushing around and spending most of their time on the road.

Some people do this for 'bragging rights'.  As someone who has visited a fair number of countries, I can tell you 'most people don't care'.  You may get questioned once or twice on it but generally, the amount you are able to brag on it aren't worth the money spent.  If you try to keep inserting it into conversation, you just look desperate.

Other people just seem to be trying to grab as much as possible in their 'once in a lifetime experience'!  The problem there may be thinking of it as a 'once in a lifetime experience' rather than something you will be doing again in the future.  If you want it bad enough.

Instead of trying to collect as many check marks as possible, alternatively you could delve more deeply into one country.  Just tour around one country - relax into it if possible.  Dally in the spots that take your fancy.  Get to know the people - I find them much more interesting than the ruins.



TIPS FOR WESTERN EUROPE

Bring a lot of small change.  Collect that heavy crap.  You may need it for automated machines - like the metro - which do not give change because they are evil.

Italy isn't as tourist friendly as I thought a major tourist hub like this would be.  Missing signs, not made really easy, etc.



PRICES

500ml Nestea, 2 euro

Note that in some 'West European' countries, food is a little cheaper if you get it as 'take away'.

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


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