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Sunday, April 29, 2012

TRAVELER'S TIPS - INTERACTING WITH THE LOCALS

INTERACTING WITH THE LOCALS

Disclaimer: I am not an expert of every culture in the world. I am pretty good at interacting with people within cultures I am completely unfamiliar with.

Meeting people from other cultures is one of the reasons I travel. Most of the people you will meet are really nice and interesting to know. However... Every culture has the other sort as well. If you don't know how to deal with them it will quickly sour your entire trip - especially in Asia. Within Asia not only are there a lot of people but those trying to separate you from your money. If you are not of Asian descent, your appearance will mark you as a 'rich foreigner'. Until you are use to being treated as a walking ATM it can be quite frustrating.

Believe it or not, the desire for foreigners to be polite is what can get them into trouble.



SCAMS

Before going to a country, read up on all of the scams of that country and city. Wikitravel is a good place to do that, there are probably others as well. Most of the 'scam artists' you will encounter in other countries are poor, uneducated and lack creativity. Knowing the common scams will save you a lot of grief later.



WHAT'S IN A HANDSHAKE

People will also want to shake your hand as you are walking along. This is done pretty much out of the blue. I can think of three good reasons not to take the proffered hand:

1. They won't let go of your hand until they are done getting something from you.
2. By controlling the hand, they control part of your body. Their pickpocket buddy may be working on your other gear.
3. It stops you walking.

People who do this can either be ignored if they are obviously beggars or a small bow or wei but keep walking. [The 'wei' or 'way' is where you put the palms and fingers of your hands together in front of you, accompanied by a small bow.]

[Note that this is primarily for the shabbily dressed individuals that without warning want to shake your hand. Judge the situations as they arise but in general I avoid shaking hands with people I don't know and have no interest in speaking with.]



IMPORTANT PHRASES

The most important phrase you can learn in any language is 'thank you'. After that, 'hello'.



HIRED CARS/DRIVERS

If you hire someone, they are on your time. If you want to leave now, you must be firm in that. You don't need to wait for him to finish his dinner - you are paying him. If you want to stay longer than he wants, tough - you are paying him. Set the pace of events you are comfortable with.



CUSTOMS/BORDER INSPECTIONS

For most people, this is not a problem. Most people are on vacation for two to four weeks then it's back to their own country and work. For long term wanderers, it is not so simple at the border crossings. My suggestion is simple: Habitually lie.

The border guards interview scores of people every day. Your job is to fit into one of the normal little boxes or categories they've built up in their mind. A non-threatening, normal, common box.

'I am going to tour the country for eleven days then go to an adjacent country on a common tourist route.' Stating this even if you have no idea of how long you will be staying in the country nor where you will go afterward, will allow them to mentally shove you into a common scenario they've seen a hundred times before.

The main thing they want to hear is that you have somewhere else you need to be. They don't want you to stick around illegally in their country.

Forcing yourself to yawn now and then can lead to actual yawning. Seeing bored tourists is much more comforting to customs/border guards than seeing jacked up, nervous tourists.



NO SPEAKIE THE ENGRISH

Any time you are asked a question you are not wanting to answer, whether by a border guard or someone on the streets you think may be interested in getting money out of you, claiming not to understand their (often rotten) English (or whatever language they're trying out on you) may be of assistance to you.

Claiming not to be able to communicate with them can shut down conversation. For border guards, getting them to rephrase their question may allow you to avoid something while still answering somewhat honestly.

If you are bothered by people on the streets and speak an obscure language, you can answer in that. A better option is to make up your own language on the spot (some may call it 'speaking in tongues') and babble in that. What ever you do, keep walking. The scammer/robber/salesman will give up when they find you can't speak English.



RELIGION

Many people avoid the topic of religion. Unless you are dealing with someone who wants to convert or judge you, normally there isn't a problem in asking respectful questions.

It is very important to have your own answers ready as well as your answers to difficult direct questions. Asking looping back questions in answer to their uncomfortable questions is a possible escape. For example:

Local: "Are you a Muslim?"
Me: "No."
Local: "So you think the prophet Mohammed is a liar?"
Me: "No more than I think the Vedas are all lies. Do you think the Vedas lied?"

These sort of answers and escaping the person who would ask those sorts of pointed questions is one option. Saying "I don't feel comfortable discussing my religion with you" is another - but either way the conversation will be done. If I am discussing religion, I try to just ask respectful and interested questions. Actually being interested is a big help. If you are not, simply avoid the discussion.

If you are a Christian (for example) treat every religious site you come to with the same respect you would a church.



OFFICIAL BUSINESS

If you get any official business done in one day it is usually through a stroke of luck. Dressing in a suit (if you have one) or like a local may help speed it along.



BASIC HAGGLING/BARTERING/BARGAINING

[Disclaimer: This section is for Asia and Africa primarily. You can't really bargain in western Europe and some other European countries east of there. Do research for the specific country you will be visiting.]

Learn to bargain. Most people are horrible at it. I wince when hear them try it. They are worried about offending the 'nice man' or have never bargained for anything in their lives. Once you learn to bargain, it is not nearly the chore you imagined it to be. You may even have fun doing it. Here are some tips to get you started:

Know the correct price ahead of time. This sounds really basic but most people don't have a clue. They will ask the merchants selling the item or the merchant's friends nearby and get a very skewed price. You want to talk to several other people (individually) who are no where close to the merchant and don't offer that good/service to get an idea of the price. Also, don't ask 'how much is it' ask if you (the local you are talking to) were to buy this, what would it cost you? In this way, you get the local price rather than the overly inflated walking ATM tourist price. You may not get to pay the local price when bargaining but it gives you the number you should be shooting for.

Typical tourist scenario:

Tourist: "How much is this necklace?"
Seller: "500"
Tourist: (lamely) "Oh- I thought it was only...uh...400."
Seller: "No, it is 500, but I will give it to you for 450."

And he would have been happy to sell it for 50. Here is the way I would approach it:

Logan: "How much is this necklace? 40? 30?"
Seller: "No! It is 200."
Logan: (laughing)
Seller: "150."
Logan: "I don't like it that much. Many people here are selling necklaces. I will look at them instead."
Seller: "100."
Logan: "Hum. I suppose it is tempting."
Seller: "90."
Logan: (holding up 50 and waving it slowly back and forth).
Seller: "75."
Logan: (looking indifferent, maybe starting to walk away)
Seller: "60!"
Logan: "Sixty is still more than fifty..."

Yes, I've actually done all of those techniques before sometimes within a single conversation. These are all techniques that work. Don't try to employ all of them every time, experiment when you're buying inexpensive things.

There are some fixed rate shops but often that means they have something special or their prices are higher than you'd normally pay. Avoid them if you wish to save money.

'Everything is negotiable' - I do mean everything. I have negotiated over groceries which have the prices printed on the items themselves, restaurant food and pharmaceuticals. Everything. If they tell you the price is fixed, I assume they are lying.

Lastly, if you ever become upset during a negotiation walk away and do not go back no matter what.



HOW TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS

In most parts of the world, maps are useful for you the traveler. Many natives I've shown a map to (even if it is in their native tongue) act as though the concept of a map is completely new to them.

Keep it basic and refer to large well known landmarks.

"Where is the Danube River?" is better than asking for a specific street. Wait till you get closer to the river to ask for the street.

Avoid compass directions. Most people in the world seem to have no idea in which direction north is. Note that if you are in a Muslim country finding the direction in which Mecca lies is not difficult and will help. My recommendation is to simply carry a small lightweight compass instead.

Keep your face and eyes toward the person when asking for directions. Do not gesture with your hands at all. If necessary, have them clasped in front of you. If you point and say "Is the museum in this direction?" they will often agree even if they have no clue at all. They want to be helpful. They do not wish to correct you. By keeping your body completely neutral they will have to do the pointing themselves. They may still make up an answer. In some cultures, admitting they don't know where something is they should know is a bigger 'loss of face' than simply giving bad directions.

Ask a lot of people for directions. As soon as you can break line of sight with the first person you asked directions from, ask another person. I've asked over ten people in a one kilometer journey before because I wasn't convinced anyone actually knew or I wanted do double check.

Sometimes you will ask an idiot for directions and they will point the wrong way. You have a choice at this point. You can either walk in what you know to be the completely wrong direction or make an excuse. This is how I handle it:

Logan: "Where is the Big Park please?"
Local: (points in what I know to be the wrong direction because I just came from there)
Logan: "Thank you very much! I will go check that out later. I will go this way to explore those buildings over there. Thank you again!" (And off you go!)



TRANSPORT

Every taxi, tuk tuk (pronounced 'took took'), rickshaw and so forth I've ever taken has had two things in common. First, all of them want to grossly overcharge you. Second, they all want you to immediately get in and go without discussing price. If you are stupid enough to enter a vehicle before nailing down the price, you deserve to be robbed. Plant your feet and get to haggling.



SARCASM

It is possible that eventually you will become frustrated with the locals and attempt to use sarcasm. It is most likely with the tuk tuk drivers who are often like beggars with vehicles. Because you are standing, walking, eating at a restaurant or even in someone else's tuk tuk - they will assume you want to be in their tuk tuk giving them money.

Tuk tuk driver: (spotting you, a walking ATM, gestures at his tuk tuk) "Yes?"
Sarcasm: "What do you think?"
Tuk tuk driver: "I think yes!"

Keep literal - they don't get sarcasm. At all. You don't want to stop to explain it to them as it will only lead to a conversation in which they will try to get hold of your money.



HUMOR

Just as sarcasm is a completely hopeless cause, so too is most humor.

You want to be careful with humor. Even people who speak English fluently may not understand the myriad nuisances of your countries humor.

Another potential landmine is that most people in the world take themselves very seriously. Americans would say 'over seriously'.

When using humor go slowly, gauge their reactions and never say anything which they could interpret as insulting to them, their religious beliefs, their culture, etc. I personally will use a lot of self deprecating humor but even that doesn't always work. "Why do you hate yourself?" I have been asked. Seriously - for saying I was so fat I could hold myself up with my belly on the bar.

Correct use of humor can make good friends quickly - incorrect use can make a situation very awkward just as quickly. Use it carefully.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

TRAVELER'S TIPS - THINGS TO CARRY

THINGS TO CARRY DURING INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

Disclaimer: These are the things I've discovered after a year of travel through a score of countries. Your results may vary.



CLOTHING

Before I go into your luggage, I want to address clothing. Dress overly conservatively - especially if you are a woman or are going into Muslim areas. If you are a woman going into Muslim areas, dressing like the local women will get you a lot less harassment. On the topic of women's dress, I've heard a lot of women complaining that they are ogled by the men overly much. Yes, but the local prostitutes dress more conservatively than many of the tourist women I've seen. Safety may depend upon what you are wearing. If you choose to ignore that, you are knowingly playing a higher risk game with little payout on your end and little to gain.

For men, long pants and log sleeve shirts of conservative cut and subdued colors fit in everywhere. The pants which have zip off legs to become shorts are the best choice. Sleeved t-shirts are usually mostly acceptable. I don't suggest any logos, words or designs. If you are a patriotic American and want to wear an 'American flag' t-shirt - it's an invitation for trouble you don't need. Unless you are in the Republic of Georgia. That is the only country it may get you invited to dinner I've been in.

Jewelry, multiple piercings, 'bling' and such can be worn at your own discretion but I've found that the effects on the natives are generally negative. They range from stares of the 'what a freak' variety up to robbery. Again, playing a game with nothing to win and more to lose.

Not everyone will be pleased at this sort of thing. I've heard a lot of people say "I should be able to dress the way I want!" Those people don't seem to understand that they are in a different country and are playing by different rules. They may never understand and pay the consequences. Not my problem. There are a lot of people who have traveled for years with fairly outrageous appearances and have never had any problem. I am happy about that. I put this information here as 'this is the safe route'.



LUGGAGE CONTAINERS

Your gear will be sorted into four different containers. First, your security pouches. These are always going to be hidden underneath your clothing. If you want to store your passport and credit cards in a fanny pack and 'just keep an eye on it', you'll get pick-pocketed like many others who had the same idiotic thought. Security pouches should be a pain in the ass to get to involving pulling up or out clothing. If these don't appeal, they do have certain very clever pants which have hidden internal zippered pockets - for about $100 per pair.

The second type of bag is your 'always on' bag. This is the bag you will literally carry everywhere with you. Because it is going to be your constant companion, light and manageable are imperative. If it's over a kilo, you've got too many or too heavy things in it.

Third is the 'travel bindle'. I've pulled this name from the old 1920's word for the kerchief tied around a few possessions that traveling hobos would carry on the end of a stick. This bindle is just used for travel. It shouldn't be too heavy nor should it contain anything valuable. If you lose it, it should be a mild bummer.

Fourth is the pack. I've spoken to some people who like a smaller pack because it forces them to not buy more stuff. I recommend exercising some discipline instead. There are some things like clothing that take a lot of room but don't weigh much. Buy the largest pack your frame will allow you to comfortably carry. The best kind of backpack is one that you can open up like a book rather than just opening the top and burrowing through your crap.



SECURITY POUCHES

Within how ever many security pouches you decide to wear should be any imperative papers such as your passport and any official documents. Credit cards, checks and so forth as well as your cash reserves. The maximum amount should be whatever can be withdrawn from an ATM plus a couple hundred dollars in new US money.

Near your passport, have a dozen or more (for long trips) passport pictures of yourself. Due to some countries restriction, I recommend a white background. Within the passport photo, if you are dressed in a conservative suit/dress this is best. Do not smile in the picture. [Background and not smiling in the photos are actual restrictions I have seen in some countries. The conservative suit/dress help in so many other ways - including better treatment by the locals.]

A student ID card with your picture on it. Make one yourself if need be. In many countries this will get you a substantial discount into exhibits and such. Plus, it is another form of ID, if needed.

These pouches should be time consuming to get into and of such a nature you will immediately note if someone else is attempting access.



THINGS TO CARRY IN YOUR 'ALWAYS ON' BAG

First, a note about your 'always on' bag. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will put something into a backpack like an ipod or camera and not even fully zip up the bag - much less put some sort of cheap luggage lock on it. If you can't quickly clamp an arm over the bag, someone else will have little problem getting into it without your noticing. I suggest a bag which hangs cross slung. Way too many people try to have their bag hanging off of a shoulder and 'hold on to it'. Sorry, but your upper body strength is no competition for a guy going by on a motorcycle and snatching the bag. Wearing a backpack on your front is safer but it does make you look like a paranoid tool.

Small, lightweight, sturdy, cheap compass. You'll need it for the crazy layout of some of the streets.

Maps. The ideal map has both your language and the native language labels. Pictures of famous landmarks on the map can also be very handy. Many residents seem never to have seen a map before. Their body language will quickly reveal this. Try asking where a nearby famous landmark is instead and get them to just point to it. Laminated maps will hold up better but being able to write on a map is handy.

Thumb drives with large storage capacity. Don't get the 'switch blade' or 'retractable' ones - they don't. Use the ones with caps. Carry one or more on you at all times. They come in unexpectedly handy whether for storing or exchanging copies of your pictures, movies, etc. These should be on you.

Fake wallet with daily allowance of money. Use those fake credit cards mailed to you in an effort to convince you to get a real credit card. Best Buy cards with no remaining balance on them and other useless plastic should all be stocked into this wallet to make it look convincing. Nothing in this wallet should have your name or address. This is what you give to the nice man with the pistol or knife who is demanding all of your money or you die. Toss it one direction, you run the other. You only lose one days worth of money in that transaction. Also, when you are spending money, this is where you get it from. Pick pockets who are targeting you will see this and steal this wallet. Again, it minimizes your risk. As an added benefit, it will help you keep track of how much you are spending in the local currency with a confusing exchange rate. For example, lets say you are in Nepal and have a $50 per day allowance. That is approximately 4200 Nepali Rupees. Every day, you put 4000 NRS into your fake wallet. No need to try to remember - when your fake wallet money is gone you know you've gone over budget for the day. Go somewhere very private and restock your wallet from the cash security pouch.

Keys for whatever you have locked.

Business cards. Keep business cards given to you rather than throwing them over your shoulder with a shrug when you receive them. Also, have business cards made with information you would give to new friends you make along the way to save a lot of time writing out the information every time. Note for the paranoid - you can set up a brand new anonymous e-mail address just for this purpose and have it put on cards to give your new potential friends a way to contact you. I just give them my name for Facebook and blog address.

Receipts. They just accumulate. Keep them till you leave the city or country.

Maps. Preferably, relevant ones.

Notebook, pens.

Foldaway hat. Since the 1930's, a lot of people are unused to wearing hats. In the overly sunny/rainy/snowy countries, a hat is very important. Having one you can stuff into a bag gives you the option to get rid of it when you are sick of wearing it.

Diarrhea medicine. Shit happens.

Knife. Don't forget to switch this to your backpack before flying. Always carry a knife.

Camera. If you can comfortably fit it into your bag.

Lighter. Even if you don't smoke you should always carry a lighter.

If you are a smoker, carry extra cigarettes. They are cheap in many countries and 'cigarette beggars abound'. A 'rich foreigner' who can't give a hard working local a single cheap cigarette won't make any friends.

Flashlight. Smaller is better. I suggest LED because you get a lot of light for not much power. Sturdy is better than cheap. If you don't have a flashlight on you at all times, you are screwing up bad.



WHAT TO KEEP IN YOUR TRAVEL BINDLE

I like to keep a separate bag of crap for when I am on the road. Some people like to keep these things in their backpack. I use a crappy burlap bag I found somewhere. This helps show that the things within it are of little to no value to discourage theft. I recommend bringing this bag for any voyage of two hours or longer.

Toilet paper. Always. Again, shit happens. If you don't bring it and say "But I thought they would have toilet paper on the train/bus!" you are stupid and deserve that shit. If you have access to toilet paper has no inner roll this is the best.

A liter or so of water per four hours of transport you are expecting.

Playing cards. Whether you strike up a card game with others or just play solitaire it can help eat up the hours. Note that in some countries, gambling - or even playing cards - may be illegal. Research or ask locals if you are uncertain.

Optional - blanket. Some of the bus and train seats are extremely hard and you will want to sit on the blanket. Sometimes, the windows won't close or will worm their way open as the bus bounces over what they call a 'road' and you will want to wrap yourself in the blanket. Stuffing a cheap blanket into the bindle can give you a lot of comfort on the road.



WHAT TO KEEP IN YOUR BACKPACK

Use a lightweight bike lock to chain your pack to something. This discourages thieves casually picking it up and carting it away. I recommend Pacsafe. It is like a super bike lock with a lovely wire mesh. Use as required. Note that some people say "I just have clothing in here." First, will thieves know that? Assuming they haven't developed X-ray vision and do wander off with your pack, how much will it cost you to purchase a new backpack, toiletries, clothing and so on? Half a grand? A grand? More? Can you afford that kind of loss when you are on vacation amazed at how fast you are already spending money?

As to what goes into the backpack itself the simple answer is 'as little as possible'. When you make the realization that people in foreign countries generally use all of the same crap you do, life becomes easier. Many people pack as though they are going to an alien planet that won't stock any products they need.

For a trip of two weeks or longer in 'backpacker mode'. This is assuming you have to carry all of your stuff. If you are traveling heavy and have numerous trunks of stuff, ignore this and have the porters store everything in your room while the butler draws you a bath.

For the normal backpacker, I'd suggest something along the lines of the following:

5+ under garmet sets (Generally, underwear is small. In cooler countries you don't have to do laundry until you run out of these.)

4 tops (see 'clothing' section above)
4 bottoms

Possibly one extra pair of shoes, depending on what you are doing.

Cord (you can make clothes lines, fasten things and tie up people with it)
Toiletry kit (smaller is better. If your kit is half as large as your head, you are woefully overloaded already.)

Critical medicines.

All of that electronic crap you will need to survive. Don't forget to get plug adapters. The power converters are no longer usually necessary for today's modern electronics. Check on individual devices to see if it will work. If you are unsure, clench your buttocks and give it a try. If it explodes, it is unable to function with the foreign power.

Nappy-time bag. This is a very small bag that contains anything you need in order to sleep. By having it within a separate bag, it is easily accessible. It can contain things like ear plugs, eye drops and so on. This needs to be easily accessible as you might need to access it in the dark - possibly with a flashlight in your mouth - to avoid waking others.

These are the bare minimums. Things like laptops, net-books, kindles and so on may be brought as well. Some people like to keep their electronic gear within the 'bindle' for added security.

I would recommend wrapping infrequently used things in clear, water tight bags. I've spoken to people that compress down their clothing to take less space but that eats up way too much time. I have two cloth bags - one for dirty clothing, one for clean and just stuff the clothing into that then into the bag. Again, the advantage of a larger pack.

There are two main restrictions to 'what to keep in your backpack'. The first is weight. If you can't walk for two hours with your backpack on, you have too heavy of pack. You probably won't be walking that long with it but you will be humping it up and down hills and stairs. Several borders have a half kilometer walk with the bag. Watching people trying to drag rolling bags they can barely manage through the mud is an ongoing source of amusement.

The second restriction of what to keep in your backpack is value. What can you afford to lose?

In a future blog I may post up each and every thing that I have in my backpack with pictures.



WHAT NOT TO BRING

Rubber bands. Hot countries make them melt and they are a joy to clean up. Use cord instead.

Illegal items (like recreational drugs). Chances are if you are the kind of person who is thinking about it anyway, my discouragement won't really help you decide not to. I don't like some of the guest houses I've stayed at - I imagine the jails might be worse. There are plenty of tourists in foreign jails.



IN CONCLUSION

Inexperienced travelers want to over pack every time. When I see someone wearing a full backpack on the front as well as a huge pack on the back, I know they have probably woefully over packed. It is perfectly acceptable to just buy stuff you need in the country you are going to. It's probably cheaper as well...

Friday, April 27, 2012

TRAVELER'S TIPS - LODGING

LODGING

As with all of the traveler's tips, I'm going to give my usual disclaimer. You don't have to agree but all of this stuff is working for me and I hope it helps you. [How is that for boiling it down to one sentence?]



One of the biggest pains in visiting a new town or city is finding a place to stay. Some people will use sites like TripAdvisor, Hostelbookers and Wikitravel to find places to stay. They will also swear by booking them in advance.

It is a comfort, they tell me, to have a place already booked in advance. They know where they will be staying and can save a lot of time and head to it. For travelers with more money than time, this makes good sense. You might even get a decent room out of it.

I don't do this. Outside of Europe, the inexpensive places aren't on the internet. My technique is just to write down a few places from Wikitravel that look promising. When I get to the new place, I try to find the tourist area. Usually, all of the guest houses, hostels and restaurants are clustered in one district. Once there, I can get a lay of the land and see what looks good. While it does suck to wander up and down stairs wearing the backpack to see different rooms you find out a lot more information than anything on the internet.

What follows are the steps I use to try to ascertain 'is this a place I want to stay'? You won't always get to do all of the steps. If you know you will only be staying one night and are too exhausted to care, you can gloss over the steps or ignore them.



STEP 1 - THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Before going into the lodging (hotel, guesthouse, hostel, home stay, etc) check out the street and surrounding areas. Are there signs of construction? Bars or dance places? All of these create noise at different times of the day. It is a horrible thing to be kept up till late at night by the disco beat then woken up early in the morning by power tools.

While western hotels are known for having a level of soundproofing, most of the worlds are not. In addition, the climate may force you to leave your windows open or bake.



STEP 2 - THE OTHER GUESTS

If there is a bar or restaurant within the lodging, this will often add to the noise level as well. Pay attention to the other clientele. Aside from hippies, locals are often more noisy and less considerate than tourists. I have no idea why - possibly they can understand what is on TV and like to watch it at deafening volumes.



STEP 3 - THE STAFF

The attitudes and body language are the next thing to look for. On one end, you have eager and energetic staff. Slothful and disinterested staff will give you a worse experience.

The staff of some places will be very interested in selling you stuff - trips, tickets and so on. Sometimes the junior staff will tell you sob stories in order to try to get money out of you. Find out about the staff before letting your guard down.



STEP 4 - THE INITIAL OFFER PRICE

All of the steps up through this point are pretty much just glance around things. With practice you will start to do them subconsciously. You'll just get a feel whether you want to stay at this place or not. The next step is to ask how much they charge for a room.

This part is crucial. Neither agree nor disagree with their price. Give no indication whether you like it or not if it is within your price range.

This is important for bargaining later. Also, you must get an answer. If your budget is $15 per night and the room is $50, you are wasting your time seeing the room. There is little (no if you are not a master at bargaining) chance of your getting the price down to your budget.

Many times, the staff won't want to give you an answer.

Guest: "How much is the room."
Staff: (Grabs key) "Let me show you the room."

By following the staff you have proven that you are showing you are weak or easily led. This will hurt in the bargaining phase later. Westerners want to be polite and friendly and often docilly follow the staff member. I don't. I plant my feet and just stare at them with a very neutral expression. They may wander off down the hall to the room but I have not moved. They eventually return and say something ("This way sir" or "Could you come with me?") but all they get is me looking at them with my feet planted and a neutral or slightly smiling expression on my face. Then, very distinctly I will repeat my question "How much is a room please?"

This tells them that I am unwilling to give them control and they must meet my price range to even get me to follow them down the hall.

Once I have established that the lodging is within my price range (or can be bargained down to it) then it is time to check out the room. You don't want to bargain at all at this state. You don't want to give away what your price range is. You do want to appear to be as friendly - though possibly with a stubborn streak - as possible. This is despite you will probably be in a crabby mood after a horribly long, bumpy, smelly, crowded and torturous time traveling.



STEP 5 - INSPECTING THE ROOM

This is the tricky bit. You want to do a fast but complete inspection of the room. If something is important to you, check it. You can't be shy or fussy about doing so. You want to find out if the bed is clean? Throw back the sheets and look at them. You want to see if (like in most of Asia) the toilet leaks? Feel the floor with your bare or stocking feet. Turn on the lights. Is hot water important to you? Turn on the shower and wait for hot water to come out. The closer the room is to the front desk, the nosier it will be. This is not so much from other guests but the staff watching television at outrageous volume levels, often all night long.

To westerners, this may seem intrusive and rude but unless it works when you get there, it never will. If you were told there is hot water and were dumb enough to believe them rather than testing for yourself get use to cold showers. Complaining will not get it fixed, you are stuck with it as is until you change lodging. In all of Asia, I have only once had an owner fix something in a private room within 24 hours of my saying something. It kind of worked after that.

Check out the room security. Are there bars on the windows? Places to chain your pack to? How accessible is the room?

If you are thinking you might like to stay in the room, it is wise to make note of all of the things you dislike about the room to use in the bargaining process. "It would be a nice room if it wasn't so close to the street. The noise might be a bit much for me..."



STEP 6 - BARGAIN FOR THE ROOM

[I am not going to cover 'how to bargain' here as it is a large topic in itself.]

Obviously if you are not liking the room you'd be leaving instead but this step assumes you want to stay there. Bargaining for the room is important. If you don't want to bargain many cultures will see you as someone with more money than brains and act accordingly.

Remember, there are more things than just price which can be bargained on. "Well, yes, I will pay your 300 baht per night but if I do I will need two keys right now - one for me and one for my lady here." Always having multiple keys when you have multiple guests is important. Or, you can leave them at the front desk to help encourage the workers and their friends to rifle through your room while you are out.

You can not and should not bargain for future things because they won't happen. "We'll take that room if you fix the toilet." Here's a news flash Jack - the toilet won't get fixed.

Make sure that the price you agree on is the total price. If they reveal later there is a service charge or VAT (value added tax), your answer should be along the lines of "Fuck you". See step seven.



STEP 7 - CHECK IN AND PAY

Paying attention to the care with which they check you into a room is crucial. If they insist on making a photocopy of the photo page of your passport, this is best. If they tell you "We can take care of your passport later" or let you fill in the information without seeing your passport that should tell you that the security is horrible and it is very easy for thieves to bluff their way in.

If you are in a country that requires you to be registered with the police department, make sure that gets done here as well. Sometimes, checking into a nice place for the first night - just to get properly registered - is important.

Pay your first night and insist on a receipt. No receipt, no money - ever. They may tell you that you do not need a receipt. This should serve to stir suspicion within you, regardless of how 'cool' they seem. Remember that if there is a disagreement in the bill it will be you - who probably do not speak the language of the land versus a respected business owner who is friends with the highly corrupt police officers. You'll end up paying.

Things I like to see on my bill include the initial date I arrived. Each day I payed for. What I payed for and how much. The word 'PAID' with some sort of signature or initials of the person I gave the money to. These are routine things on bills in western countries but often overlooked elsewhere. Be sure to get it on your bill to cover your ass.

Get a business card of the hotel. Ideally, they should have the name/address in English on one side and the local language on the other. Remember, you will be showing this to people who may not read any English - or perhaps even their native language. Getting a business card (I suggest a couple) is critical. If the hotel can't be bothered to have business cards you are in a real slum - get them to write the name and address on a paper for you so you can find your way back.



STEP 8 - MOVE IN

Security is your overriding concern within the room. Assume the door lock can be picked, bumped or forced. If they have a safe in the room check it carefully to see if it is really secure or just appears to be. Using duct tape to hide valuables in unlikely spots is often preferable to the safe. If you are smart enough to own a pacsafe use it. Chain it to as many pieces of furniture as possible to slow the thieves down and force them to make noise destroying furniture. I recommend it even if you have 'just packed clothing'. How much will it cost for a new backpack and all new clothing?



STEP 9 - GET OUT

Don't advertise when you want to leave. They should know when you walk downstairs with a backpack on and toss the key onto the counter. This prevents a host of different evils such as robbing you just before you leave, figuring out how to squeeze more money out of you, getting pissed you didn't buy more stuff and so forth. Just walk out when it is time to go. Make sure you carefully inspected your room before doing so - otherwise it can be a bit awkward realizing you left your ipod behind...



There are a lot of very beautiful, comfortable places you can stay in the world. For every one of those there are several squalid and indifferent places. Hopefully, these tips will put you into more good places than bad ones because having a bad experience at a place can sour your whole experience within the country.



Review of steps:

1. Scope out the neighborhood
2. Check out the other guests.
3. Investigate the staff.
4. Initial price range.
5. Inspect the room.
6. Haggle.
7. Check in.
8. Move in.
9. Get out.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

TRAVELER'S TIPS - MONEY

These "traveler's tips" have appeared in many of the different "Logan's Voyage" blogs over the last couple years. This is my attempt to consolidate and order them.

I have pretty strong opinions on what is correct and incorrect to do with some aspects of travel. For example, I feel that if you don't have some sort of flashlight on you at all times, you are ill prepared. If it is left behind in your room, you are ill prepared. If you can't get to it easily, ill prepared. You won't know when you will unexpectedly need a flashlight.

Hopefully, this guide will help to educate newer travelers on some things I've found useful after a year of constant travel and a score of different countries on three different continents.


All of the information here is in addition to your research on the specific country you want to visit.

Due to length, I have decided to divide up the "Traveler's Tips" into sections and publish them separately.



MONEY

Money will be a constant preoccupation for travelers. Europe will cost more than Asia, however in Asia the average man on the street - and even the government - will see you as a walking ATM which should be fleeced as efficiently as possible. Knowing how to deal with money and manage it could mean a huge difference not only in how much you spend, but what you get for it.

Some of these tips may sound a bit jaded. It is illogical and counter productive to the purpose of travel to expect things will be the same as your own country - including in regards to money.



GETTING READY

This will vary a lot, depending on where you go. There are countries (Bhutan) where tourists are made to spend as much as $250 a day. Budget travelers can get by on as little as ten or twenty dollars a day. How much you take is not nearly as important as your ongoing access to money.

Well before going on a trip, contact your bank and credit card companies. Inform them of the countries you will be going to and tell them to make sure your plastic will work in those countries. If you have any flexibility in your schedule, include any other countries you may go to as well.

Obtaining foreign currency from your home country bank may not be possible or wise. I've heard stories about banks accidentally giving their customers counterfeit currency. Some currencies may not be available outside of the country you are going to.

Despite the (at the time of this writing) the steady decline of the US dollar, I recommend it for travelers. The Euro is a good second choice. Although it is often possible to exchange other currencies (British pound, Japanese yen, etc) the dollar itself is recognized and accepted world wide. Unless the country you are going to is especially expensive, I recommend carrying a minimum of two one hundred dollar bills and any money needed for visas. The maximum to carry would depend on your budget, economic level, the country you are traveling to and such. Since the plan is to get native currency as soon as you get into the country itself, going over a few hundred dollars might be extravagant.

All bills should be brand new and in pristine condition. Many countries will not accept notes (American, their own or other countries) which have writing on, are dirty, torn or missing pieces. Extreme countries will not accept notes with crease marks in them though these are rare and 'lack tourism infrastructure'. Do not accept any questionable bills, demand different bills.

Some countries only accept American currency for their visas.

Discard any coins prior to going. Nobody will exchange coins.

If you carry your money in a spot that is easy for a pickpocket to get, they probably will get it. Get a couple of pouches you can wear under your shirt or fancy pants with hidden inner pockets and zippers. It is my belief you will notice someone pulling your shirt up to have a go at your pouches.

Having a wallet in your back pocket or your documents, credit cards and money in a fanny pack worn in the back or front is stupid and someone will probably teach you the error of your ways. Dispersing credit cards, passport and money into more than one pouch ensures that if you are robbed of one pouch you won't lose absolutely everything.

Having a backup plan to be able to access more money as well as carrying well hidden money will assist you greatly should the worst case scenario happen.



ARRIVING IN THE NEW COUNTRY

As soon as you reach the new country, hunt down an ATM. Ideally, this ATM should be attached to an open bank. If there is a problem such as it sucking in your card and not returning it, or doing a transaction and not giving you any money, you have somewhere to complain rather than falling to your knees in the street and screaming "Why God, why?"

Withdraw the maximum amount possible from it. In addition to the service charge appearing on the screen, your home bank may charge additional fees. Withdrawing a small amount will cost you substantially more over time. By using the ATM, you completely miss the joy of being raped by a 'government authorized currency exchange'. [Countries lacking the infrastructure for tourism (such as Myanmar) have no ATM's. Special rules go for these countries. Since few tourists go to countries without tourist infrastructure, I won't cover those special cases here.] If you need money and can't find a currency exchange, cash in one of your two bills. Unless are in an expensive country, that will keep you fed and in lodging for at least a night until you can find a currency exchange.

The ATM's should be the only things that get access to your credit cards. Handing your plastic to someone who makes less in a year than you might in a week or month isn't a good idea.

Sort your money in private. Big bills inside the fold, small bills on top. This will help reduce the number of times you have to fan out your money and scream "Gosh I hope I get robbed!"



BUYING GOODS

Unless you are used to a foreign currency, it can often look like Monopoly money. It's strange bills that have no value you recognize. As a result, people tend to spend them very quickly. There are two things you can do combat this:

Carry a small calculator. (Note, your phone may have one.)

Carry a daily wallet. Every day, transfer your budgeted money into that wallet. If you run out early, go to a restroom or somewhere very private to dive into your money pouch under your shirt to transfer additional funds into your wallet. Having a daily wallet will help to remind you how fast you are spending money. In addition, if it gets stolen, you only lose one day worth of money.

Within Asia, Africa and parts of Europe you will need to learn to haggle. If you do not wish to, your vacation could cost over double what it would otherwise. Within Europe, rooms rates can often be negotiated for longer stays. Within Asia everything is negotiable. If shops call themselves 'fixed price', assume they are lying. If there are prices in English on products remember these are for foreigners to see - the locals do not pay this amount. Despite my saying that 'literally everything is negotiable within Asia', other tourists are often surprised at what I will negotiate. Menu prices. Medicine. Tours. Groceries. Taxi rides. Everything. If you can't negotiate everything, you are doing it wrong. If you feel awkward bargaining, you have three choices:

1. Travel with someone who enjoys constant haggling.
2. Get over it.
3. Have access to or bring a lot of extra money.

On haggling - should you ever find yourself becoming angry immediately walk away. And - here is the critical bit - do not go back nor talk to the merchant again. Period.

Outside of western Europe, assume that once you give the merchant your money, it is gone. The words 'refund' and 'customer service' are simply not recognized. Check every purchase carefully. For example if you purchase a cigarette lighter, test it in the store. Walking outside and discovering it doesn't work may mean you just wasted your money.

Within Europe, question locals as to whether taxi meters are reliable. Within Asia and parts of Africa any meters should be ignored. Negotiate before getting into the cab. They will try to get you into the cab and going to your destination without any mention of money. Allowing them to do so is to say "I am stupid and rich - I will pay whatever you wish when we get there." If a taxi driver tells you there is a 'fixed rate', they are liars.

Small change is often critical. Whether due to poverty or habitual lack of planning ahead, many stores/merchants/taxi drivers routinely have no change. Also, after you bargain and have reduced the price you will really feel like an idiot if you pull out a bill the merchant can't even break to purchase the item.

Banks may not wish to provide change. Purchasing something cheap at a posh grocery store or chain store often can secure needed smaller bills.

Find out from locals you are not doing business with (and preferably ones who do not normally deal with tourists) if tipping is necessary. In many countries it is not - or the amount of the tips is tiny. Tipping the same rate as in your own country is unnecessary and serves to drive up prices.



PAYING FOR YOUR ROOM

Always get a dated receipt. Failure to do so may result in an argument, threats of police and paying again of the room. Do this habitually, despite how 'cool' or 'friendly' the proprietor seems. If they aren't planning on ripping you off, they won't have any problem making you a receipt. Get it as you are paying for the room - no excuses, no delays.



LEAVING THE COUNTRY

Aside from any local currency you wish to keep as mementos of your trip, dump all remaining currency. Either exchange it with fellow travelers or visit a currency exchange and have it converted. Depending on the country, it is very difficult or impossible to exchange local money after exiting the country. Some currencies are illegal to export - or import to other countries.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

HALL OF BRIGHT CARVINGS

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM

Because I was bored, I went to visit the national museum. Admission charge with my camera (separate charge for that) came to 150 NRS.

They wanted me to leave the bag of stuff I always carry. That's not going to happen. I explained they could either allow me to take my bag in or refund my money and I would go away. They compromised by doing a quick visual search of my bag both coming in and going out. Pretty much anything under hand grenade size would be missed in the search they did.

I wandered around the museum. There were three buildings and most of it was taken at my normal fast walk reserved for dull stuff. There were a couple of nifty things but overall the most interesting thing at the museum was the smell.

The smell of ancient antiquities, dust, neglect and disinterest. It's the special kind of smell you can only get from museums with very low traffic and a lot of libraries in the USA where print died long ago.

Museums are depressing places. The photos of famous long dead people and artwork don't really depress but when you see something intimate - something that actually belonged and was used by someone... And most of the time the stories are lost. The stories which are more interesting than the artifacts.

When I was a child, one of the things I was forced to read included reference to a 'hall of Bright Carvings'. [Disclaimer, this may be part of the Titus Groan novels but I don't recall any of that stuff. Just a story about this 'hall of Bright Carvings' which I shall now relate. The whole story could be a figment of my deranged mind and nothing to do with Titus Groan. Not a clue here and I don't care enough about it to actually research it as the novels don't look very good.]

As I recall the story, it goes something like this:

Once upon a time was a village. Every year, they would have a wood carving competition. People would labor for an entire year upon their wood carvings and then enter them into the competition. The best one was selected by a panel of esteemed judges. All of the other pieces were then placed into a large pile and burned.

The winning piece was then taken to the Hall of Bright Carvings. There, it was ensconced with winners from all of the preceding years. Other than the caretaker who cared nothing about art, nobody else was allowed into the Hall. The winning wood carvings would then sit and gather dust for the rest of eternity.

I'm not sure why they had us read this story when I was in grade school nor why I remembered it. The message it conveyed seemed to be 'don't try that hard, it doesn't really matter and nobody really cares'. Not the kind of message I want conveyed to students in grade school.

But that image of the Hall of Bright Carvings has stayed with me these many years. Any time I enter a museum, I am reminded of it.

On the way out, I was preceded by two Nepali gentlemen wearing backpacks. They weren't searched, I was. Baffling.



SHADY CHARACTER?

I was wandering the streets when I got stopped by a balding black haired Aussy. He did the double hand shake and identified himself as Paul. Something tripped my internal alarms.

Paul: "What's your name?"
Logan: "What's up?"
Paul: (Forcefully) "I asked what your name was - or don't you answer questions?"
Logan: "Not from people I meet on the streets."
Paul: (Gesturing for me to go on) "Walk your own line then."

I did.

I'm thinking he was either a beggar or a really bad con man. He would need to build his skill as a 'roper' before he can start getting things out of people. Yes, there are a lot of people who would encourage me to 'be nice' but I'd rather be wrong and follow my instincts. My instincts all told me 'this guy is going to try to get something out of you and it's not friendship'.

Don't get me wrong - I will often strike up conversations with people. Lots and lots of people. But my intent is a good conversation. I'm not trying to get anything out of them - I just want to be friendly. Given how often I am able to strike up conversations and even end up giving them my card or sometimes hanging out with them, I think people get that on some level.



PAYPAL

I've had a lot of folks tell me that I should have a paypal button on the site to be able to accept donations. I've bowed to the wisdom of this and, after a small battle with Paypal, gotten my paypal account active again and put the button up.

If you feel like donating, great, thanks.



NEPAL CUSTOMS

Nepal is extremely concervative with regards to women. If you take a Nepali girl to a hotel, there could be police involvement. Even if you are sharing a taxi! It is assumed that you are taking her to a hotel to have sex. It is automatically believed that she is a prostitute. Probably doesn't do well for her self esteem.

God help you if she is of a different caste.

These problems don't exist with foreigners. This is why a lot of Nepali gentlemen would rather date foreign women.

I have no idea at all what the women of Nepal do but I'm guessing it is not as free for them to date foreign men. Or if they will be assumed to be a prostitute if seen with a foreign man. My guess is yes.



PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

I've been doing some research on the temperature of different places. It seems that the temperature of Kathmandu as well as that of Goa is about the same during June and July.

My visa for Nepal expires on June 16th. My visa for India expires July 29th. Since the only thing I'm wanting to do in India yet is to check out Goa, I might take the difficult and exhausting overland route down there. It will be via first class train once I get out of Nepal. But first class in India is second or third class by European standards.

When I am in Goa, I can figure out if I want to weather the monsoon season that will be there (as it will in Nepal) or move on to deal with the monsoon in either the Philippines or Indonesia.

For all of those Georgians (Republic of Georgia, not the state in the USA) reading, yes I will be heading back to Georgia at some point but I still want to hit some more countries yet.

Note that this is all speculative. I may decide just to laze around more spots in Nepal, get a visa extension and all of that - but I'm thinking Nepal isn't what I need right now. It has nice parts but because it has been turned into more of an amusement park for trekkers, it is a bit pricey to get out of Kathmandu. I've literally seen everything in Kathmandu I care to - a week or two ago. By the time Matt's visit is complete, I will be very ready to move on from Kathmandu if I can find a good place to go.



TRAVEL QUOTE OF THE DAY

"When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home." - Sir Winston Churchill.



COSTS

Pirated movie, 30 NRS. [Yes, that's like .36 USD.] The fun part is that if you return the DVD without any scratches, you get 10-15 NRS backi.

Hookah, flavored, 250 NRS. The prices are very strange here. For a hookah and a beer, you could instead have a nice room for the night. Or 2-3 big meals. I suspect the evil hand of the government.

Taxi ride: I've been told that renting a taxi for an entire day would probably cost 4000-6000 NRS. That tells me that it is cheaper to just get one for a ride somewhere then pick up a new one later. You can go anywhere in the city for 250 NRS on down though some of the taxi drivers will start at outrageous prices like 600-800 NRS to see if you are stupid and rich.

Milk and cereal are amazingly expensive. Every now and then, I just get a strange urge to sit down with cold milk and eat an entire box of cereal. 500g of cereal is 300-500 NRS. 1 liter of milk is 240 NRS. That will set you back as much as a steak dinner. [I realize normal people don't eat an entire box of cereal in one go but there we are...] This cost is actually as much or more than you can purchase it for in the USA...

Simple (less touristy) restaurant, mains 50-250 NRS.

Cigarettes can be purchased singly even from restaurants though you'll have a 40% mark up in a restaurant if you don't go to a store to buy them.



VIDEOS

Well, I went to the national museum of Nepal in Kathmandu. I'd rate it as 'meh'. I got my 150 NRS worth but just. (For those who don't know the exchange rate, it's about $2).

Across the street - for the same price - they have a military museum. I will see if Matthew wants to go there when he is in town and sober. And not killing a hooker.

Here are some videos of it:

National Museum 1
National Museum 2
National Museum 3
National Museum 4
National Museum 5

Friday, April 13, 2012

COME SAIL AWAY COME SAIL AWAY...

BEGGARS

Today, I learned that some beggars self mutilate in order to beg more efficiently. Occupational hazard, I retorted.

Once you get begged from at least ten times a day for a few months then you may suddenly realize that you just don't give a crap about them. If you see one lying dead in the street you step over them to keep going.

Fortunately for me, I was a heartless bastard *before* I got begged from. It put me ahead on the learning curve.

I've seen a lot of travel shows where people are forced to deal with beggars when they are shooting. They inevitably turn to the camera and say something like 'Isn't this tragic' or some tripe to make you think "They care, but they're just surrounded by poverty."

If they've traveled for a long period of time they may care still but in a very detached way. Like how people who have never been to Africa care about all of the bloated belly kids starving to death with flies crawling around on them. Or less.



WASTE MANAGEMENT IN KATHMANDU

Yeah, you get some esoteric stuff on this blog.

As I understand it, the local government (or residents) pay people from a nearby village to come and haul off the trash. Those people put it into a big gorge they have relabeled 'landfill'. When you live on a mountain and toss something off of a big cliff, I suppose it is effectively 'gone'.

Every now and then, the residents of the cliff village decide they would like more money from Kathmandu. They demand more money. Kathmandu refuses. The village people then go on a strike. This causes the garbage to pile up.

Most of the streets in Kathmandu are pretty narrow. The only place they have much room are the intersections of the streets where they have built temples.

So, the piles of trash go in front of the temples. According to the Nepali people I've spoken with, the piles can get excessively large - man size. And they excrete a fun filled brown liquid.

Like pretty much all of the countries in Asia, the words 'sewage system' don't seem to have any meaning. The sewage goes on the street. They don't have clever pipes underneath or anything.

So, the old diaper smelling piles of man sized trash stick around until they either animate and go on a rampage or the people of Kathmandu agree to pay the villagers some or all of what they want to cart this shit off.

I'd managed to get a couple of pictures of one of the garbage gathering facilities in Kathmandu. Unlike most of the tourist places, they didn't try to charge me 500 NRS to get in.



RESTAURANT NOTES - FIRE AND ICE

Catchy name. This is the kind of upper class place that Nepal people make reservations well in advance to visit. You will drop 1000-2000 NRS for two people dining here. It is a pizza restaurant.

They have the 13% VAT and the 10% service charge which means I have no interest in eating there. In addition, the prices for pizza start at 600 NRS. Hell, I can go to Everest Steak House for that and get good quality beef.

On my personal list, pizza is well below steak in terms of desirability.



MORE ON LOGAN'S UNDERWEAR

Because you really want to know.

Everyone believes that Nepal is the place to buy cheap clothing. For some things, this is true. Not so much for underwear. They have boxers and tighty whities. The kind of underwear I like is some sort of strange alliance between the two. You don't feel so much like Superman with his balls gripped in a red vice. You don't have a huge wad of extra material gathering up and making it feel like you are wearing two different pair of pants at the same time.

And I am a fat bastard.

By Nepali standards, I am huge. A lot of these guys are pretty small people. If you wear XL on down, you are just fine in a quest for underwear.

I can compress my fat to get into XXL.

I'm glad I don't wear a tie, otherwise between my underwear and the tie people might mistake me for a sausage.

To me, the color of the underwear is somewhat important. When you wear white pants that could become wet in a sudden rainstorm you don't want stupid looking underwear on. My favorite color is gray. The stains might not be as apparent and they might not shine out like a beacon from beneath your clothing. It kind of seems like the best of both worlds.

Last night, I was looking in the smaller shops. The closest I could find was some entrepreneurial shopkeepers had written in pen XXL on the underwear. Ink still wet. Do they really expect this to work? Yes. If they expect this to work on foreigners they must have some really stupid people they do business with.

So, I wandered to a place called "New Road". Yeah, really. It is a shopping district. In a couple of different upscale shops I eventually found a total of four bottoms. Total price after a bit of light haggling, 900 NRS. That's about $3.20 per bottom. Not a great price at all but hopefully decent quality.



MONSOON

People I've spoken with have told me that the monsoon season is May till August but here isn't really that severe. I'll be in Nepal for part of it.



SAILING INFORMATION

I didn't come up with any of this. One of the things I monitor is 'boat hitchhiking' on CouchSurfing. Here is where you can read the original. This is by Lilv (Lily?) Barlow from Brisbane, Australia. Big bow to her, she is cool. I'm reposting it here just in case something bad ever happens to the CouchSurfing copy.

---START---

Maybe there were always nomads out there taking to the seas. Maybe travelers just got sick of the highways. Or maybe the aviation industry finally spilled too much fuel... In any case, boat-hitching is gaining ground in the rambling world – we wanna sail!

I was spat into the whirlwind of ocean cruising on other people’s boats when in Greece about a year ago, and have since hitched lifts through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and up into North America. Along the way I’ve picked up bits and pieces of information to help the boat-hitching traveler… so thought I’d set them down and spread the word!

• You can choose where you want to go, OR when you want to go… but rarely both. This is the most important thing to remember I think. Although there are a good amount of yachts sailing the oceans, they keep to pretty specific routes, and pretty specific seasons, so flexibility on the travellers behalf is huge. Find the boat first, THEN decide where you want to go or when you want to leave. This will save lots of disappointing dead ends and discouraging knockbacks.

• Be in the right place at the right time. This kind of follows the point above. Looking for a boat in Gibraltar in November, when all the yachties are sailing out of the Med. readying to cross the Atlantic, will be a lot smarter than rocking up there in June, when they will all be sipping Ouzo in Greece. Find out the cruising routes (link at the bottom of this page) and cruising seasons, so you know where to be to find the most boats going your way.

• So there are basically two ways to find a boat: Online, or in person. Most people do both. I am a huge advocate of the online method. Most skippers who need crew will put up something on one of the crew finding websites anyway… and a lot of the ‘cool’, ‘grassroots’ sailors won’t be hanging around marinas – they’ll be in a little (free) bay somewhere with a quiet anchorage. Browsing online will save you time, energy, and you’ll probably find a boat more suited to you, since you can check out their profile first. Check as many of the sites as you can, (I always use findacrew.net) and write to as many different boat owners as you can. Remember, be flexible. Just send send send, as many messages as you can. The system on findacrew.net is kind of shitty, where you can only send a pre-written message, but set up a good profile and make yourself sound like the adventurous spirited traveler that you are, and hopefully you’ll get some replies. If neither of you are premium members, you might have to pay the 50bucks for ten days or whatever. If you do, use that opportunity to write personal messages to any skipper who sounds interesting. Another option is to try to find them online, with the information they’ve given you in their profile, a lot of boat owners will have blogs. It’s still the biggest, and I think the best, website to use… but there are lots of others, check them out too.

• Weed out the dodgy ‘seeking relationship’ skippers. It’s not hard, just read their profile well, and check the signs. If they are looking for a ‘female’ between the ages of ’18 and 35’ for a ‘friendship/relationship’ you’ll probably get the idea. There are good people on these websites, you just got to find them! Also remember, it can take a lot of time for captains to plan journeys/crew, so the more time you have up your sleeve, the better. Start looking months before you want to head off. On the other hand, some will need crew right away, so be ready to go when they are!

• Then there’s the in person method. Go to marinas, poster every notice board you see. Be honest, write down your nationality, sex, age, level of experience, and include a photo. I’ve seen these around a lot, but honestly, I doubt their success rate. I think the best way to find a boat in person is to network network network. Hang out at the local bars (they’re sailors!), stay close by, hitchhike around, and try to meet as many people as you can. The word of mouth is huge in the yachty world, it’s all about someone who knows someone who knows someone. If you have time, get down to the cruising area just before the season begins, and stay a while (like a month or more!). Often they are great places to hangout anyway (British Virgin Islands, Majorca, Sicily…) and small communities, so you’ll be in with the crowd in no time. Be social!

• What experience do you need? Obviously, any time at sea, courses etc… is going to help, but don’t worry if you don’t have this. I started with nothing but a love of water. A lot of sailors will want to teach you THEIR way anyway, so having a clean slate might even help. Be prepared to offer whatever you have. Think of how your skills could be useful. Medical, cooking, and engineering, all very handy! Even a good musician can be a welcome addition to a crew. Be fit, be handy, be positive. Light hearted and fun, but sensible and with lots of common sense, that’s what most skippers will be looking for.

• It’s a good idea to know the basics. Read a book on the 101 of sailing. Which is port, which is starboard, how to tie a bowline… the very basics will help you a lot. Once you get ‘into’ the scene, you’ll be learning the jargon and systems in no time… just keep all eyes and ears open.

• The next step is seeing if the boat is right for you. Before any long passage, go for a ‘get-to-know-you’ sail, and spend up to a week with the skipper you’re signing on with. Finding crew is like finding friends, there’s a possibility you might just not get on. This will give you an idea of their lifestyle… do they drink a lot? (Ask about whether the boat is ‘dry’ at sea or not). Do they smoke? Boats are tiny spaces, if you’re a non-smoker, this might bother you. What kind of sail are you after? A nice big boat where you push a button and the sail goes up, another one and the sail goes down… or a little cruiser with no shower, no engine (ha, this is rare, but they WILL be cool!). In my opinion, the smaller it is, the better it is. Small boat owners will generally use their boat more, sail more instead of motor, and spend less time on the dock in a marina, and more time in pretty anchorages. A week long sail with them will tell you if they’re a motor sailor, or if they wait for weather windows and go where the wind blows.

• Ask about money. What is it going to cost you? The most common is that you pay for your food, and they pay the rest, but keep in mind this might be more than you would normally spend on food while on the road, so make sure you ask. Some skippers will ask you to pay a few boat costs too, mooring fees or fuel. You might be able to organize a ‘work exchange’ deal, if they need varnishing or maintenance done to the boat. Maybe they are getting hauled out, put on the hard for a week, and could really use a spare pair of hands. If you’re REALLY lucky, they will pay all the costs… and once you start getting some serious sea miles, you’ll even get PAID to go sailing!

• Finally, have a good think about if this is really for you. The idea of sailing off into the sunset might sound awesome, but try to imagine being at sea in rough weather, heeled over, raining and cold. Everything falling all over the place and never being still. Most watch schedules will mean 3-4 hours alone at night sailing the boat (after you have experience of course) and sleeping patterns are always erratic. You’ll be in a small space with several people (depending on the size of the boat, usually 3 or 4 crew on board) and not always in the best situations. You’ll need to keep your head together and be switched on almost 24hrs a day. Also, remember than more than HALF of your time on the boat will be spent anchored, moored, or docked somewhere. Usually this means working at putting the boat back together, installing new gadgets or waiting for the weather to change, and as crew you’re expected to help with this. It won’t all be high energy stuff.
On a brighter not e – it iS everything you imagined… dolphins, sunsets, sustainable transport and using your hands to carry you along… if you’re up for it, it’s magical!

Links:

When and where to be: http://www.cruiser.co.za/crewfinder1.asp
Find that boat!: www.findacrew.net


And here is some excerpts I typed up from a book called “the Hitchhikers guide to the Oceans” by Alison Muir Bennett and Clare Davis. It was published in 1990 though, so beware it’s a little dated. Still, most of the information is still useful:


Where is the need? To find an answer to these questions will require an understanding of world weather patterns and the relative seasons of trade winds and hurricanes. The area concerned is the tropic zone located between the Tropic of Cancer at latitude 23N and the Tropic of Capricorn at latitude 23S. Here, during certain parts of the year, the north-east trade winds north of the Equator and the south-east trade winds south of the Equator are found.

It is these east to west blowing, warm trade winds of 10 to 25 knots plus the easygoing, happy, relaxed people found on islands and continents in this zone that draw cruising yachts to it. Unfortunately, the tropic zone is also where hurricanes with winds of 65 to 175 knots or more are formed. However, their times and places of origin are fairly well defined. North of the Equator they arise between the months of August and November, and south of the Equator between December and March.

Like the birds, yachts migrate in and out of the tropic zone. Whether yachts are circumnavigating or just cruising around the oceans of the world, they gather at certain points in the tropic zone before making their ocean passages according to these weather patterns. Thus, these are also the places where skippers most need crew.

(…) Finding a crew position along the known yacht routes can often be easier than at the outset of an ocean passage from a home continent, even though it may not be so economical of convenient. The family or friends that skippers set out with often have to return home or some drama en route may have convinced a skipper of the need for crew. There are natural bottlenecks where boats will congregate in numbers while waiting for the weather or the season for the next leg of the voyage. Sometimes they wait for brief periods, sometimes for a few months, as in the case of having to ‘hole-up’ for a hurricane season to pass by.

The following locations will be the easiest and best places to make contact with yacht skippers who might be considering taking crew aboard:

North Pacific Ocean:
Southern Californian ports from Santa Barbara to San Diego in October. Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, Mexico, at Christmas.
Hawaiian Islands: Hilo (Radio Bay), Hawaii and Lahina, Mauii from May to September in all directions. Ala Wai, Honolulu in August/September for returning TransPac racers to the USA
Philippines: Liloan, Cebu Island in August/September. Hong Kong from December to April for deliveries of yachts built in Taiwan going north to the USA or south to Europe.

South Pacific Ocean:
Tahiti, French Polynesia from April to September/October, Fiji in September. New Zealand, North Island at Bay of Islands in March.

Indian Ocean:
Australia at Darwin in July. South Africa at Durban in December. Sri Lanka, Galle in December.

South Atlantic Ocean:
South Africa at Cape Town in January/February.

North Atlantic Ocean:
British and North European Ports – Lisbon/Vilamoura. (Yachts should have crossed Bay of Biscay by the end of August.) Bermuda in November and April to August. The Canary Islands, Las Palmas and Madeira, Funchal in November. Fort Lauderdale, Florida in November.

Mediterranean:
Gibraltar, Palma, Malta and many other ports from April to November.
Note: Apart from some diving charters in the Red Sea area, there is very little cruising traffic to rely on from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean. An inconvenient passage combined with a difficult political area reduces the flow of yachts going south. In the opposite direction, more yachts go via the Suez Canal as a convenient short cut back to Europe from the Indian Ocean – despite the inconveniences – if they do not wish to go around Africa.

Caribbean:
St Thomas, Virgin Islands in November. Barbados/Grenada in November/December. Panama Canal – Panama Canal Yacht Club, Cristobal, and Balboa Yacht Club in March/April.

---END---



MOVIE REVIEWS

For those just joining us, a quick review on Logan's movie rankings:
1/10: Beating the people to death who created this movie would be a justice.
2/10: Playing a rousing game of 'Mine Sweeper' is preferable to watching this steamy pile.
3/10: A really horrible movie. Porn movies have better plots.
4/10: This movie ranked this high because Logan had the sense to stop watching it part way in. I do realize it is odd that a movie I didn't complete watching can be rated this high - it is partially a code for me to indicate on IMDB that I didn't finish it.
5/10: A very average movie, nothing to get excited about.
6/10: May have had a good scene or two in it.
7/10: Decent movie.
8/10: Pretty good movie.
9/10: High rewatch value.
10/10: A movie that can regularly be watched again and again.


The Kingdom

5/10. It had a couple good explosions and such in the first few minutes but honestly, I found it depressing. Probably because it is too real. I want humor and explosions - not people are being dicks to each other in the name of money and religion. Also, any professional film that uses unsteady cam for more than a couple shots should have the director publicly beaten.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Holy Christ did this movie have a slow build. The first hour is all 'character building' bullshit. I think there is more to come after all of that. While there are obviously a lot of people who liked this movie, it is way too super slow for Logan to deal with. Not one explosion preceded or followed by a witty line. No gun fire. Nothing. Just some girl who is way too much into 'body art' to make Logan happy. It would be like trying to kiss a porcupine. Be careful not to get stuck.



VIDEOS

500 NRS per night room KTM

Goddess House



PRICES

Getting into most of the tourist areas, 500 NRS per person per place. Most not really worth it IMO.

Sandal cleaning, 50 NRS (bargained down from 100 NRS). After he finished he tried to re-open negotiations. I told him no and countered with a cigarette (5 NRS) and he seemed pleased with that.


Hard alcohol

Kahlua, 2745 NRS (standard sized bottle)
Captain Morgan's black rum, 2040 NRS
Bacarti, 2630 NRS
Teacher's Whiskey, 2050 NRS.

Again, with all hard alcohol, I advise buying the expensive imported stuff if you have to drink. They put poison in their own alcohol. Even things the shop keepers tell you 'is the finest X in Nepal' are absolutely shit. Nepal isn't a good place to come for alcohol at all - go to Cambodia instead.

Twenty or so sticks of cheap incense, 50 NRS.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

WELCOME TO 2069!

QUOTE TO GET US STARTED

"To travel hopefully is better than to arrive." - Robert Lewis Stevens. [I agree with this unless you are say freezing to death and heading toward one of those hiker cabins in the mountains.]



HAPPY NEW YEAR, BITCHES

Nepal has four different new years. The one that took place on April 12th puts the year at 2069. I am now living in the far future according to the Star Trek timeline. Unfortunately, that means the horrible 'Enterprise' crap is still upcoming. Long wait till we get to the good stuff.

In Nepal, the natives celebrate by getting drunk and or high then having gang fights. I had no idea about this but oddly I was out after dark. I got in pretty quick because I had a bad feeling about being out and about. I'm glad to see that my 'street sense' or 'sixth sense' is still working.

With so many new years every year, fear of entering a wormhole runs high.



BEWARE THE CHINESE

In speaking with Nepali, it seems that the Chinese are working on ecomically taking over Nepal. There are several Chinese owned hotels and businesses springing up everywhere. The Chinese wanted to turn Thamel (the tourist district) into a Chinatown. Although this was initially blocked by the businessmen of Nepal, the Chinese are still working on doing it. They are paying double for many businesses just to snake them out from Nepal control.

I'm really quite neutral on the business and political aspects of this. Bluntly, it's not my country. If the corrupt Nepal government wants to allow this, the old saying that people have the kind of government they want and deserve comes to mind. I can't help but wonder for the tourist who come to Nepal - welcome to Chinatown! Not really sure that's why they came to Nepal instead of...well...China...

It seems that there are a lot of Chinese tourists that come here. Instead of wanting to eat Nepali food and such, they prefer Chinese food. And hotels. It will be like they never left home.

But they do come in large packs.



BIT O BUDDHISM

Monks are called 'rim-bo-chey'. People buy scarves for them called 'katas'. These are long scarves, cheaply made. These are given to the monks as a sign of respect (?) when the important gift - an envelope with money in it - is given. I'd asked what the monks do with all of these katas. I was thinking they probably accumulated quite a few but it turns out they are 'recycled'. The amount of money given is interesting. One hundred NRS is not considered a good gift but one hundred and five NRS is. They don't like to end the amount with a zero. I'd pressed them on why but the people I was talking to had difficulty explaining it. It seems to be that ending the number with a zero is an 'empty' number or some such. Very interesting stuff. Although there is no upper limit to the donation, even small amounts (25 NRS) are appreciated.

I had been thinking about getting the kata and an envelope for the money (yes) but then I saw the line and decided against it. This is also something a lot of tourists like to do.



RAFTING

I discussed rafting with a very cool guy at "Adventure Aves Nepal". He felt that it is better to try a one day rafting excursion before signing up for the longer (up to four day) ones. This sounds like good advice. I'm thinking after Matt gets here and murders a couple prostitutes we'll try the one day rafting. If we both enjoy it we can always sign up for a longer one if desired.

Some people would say "But you can white water raft in your home country - why go to Nepal?"

There are a couple reasons for this. First, what Nepal has most going for it is scenery. River travel should hopefully give us some good glimpses. Second, it would cost a lot more to have three guys in two different rafts with us. Even if there are just the two of us, they send out all of that. Good luck finding that for $45 per person per day in the USA. Including transport there, back and meals. Third, it should give Matt something to talk about at work. "Oh, I was rafting in Nepal." Not a normal thing, thus good. "Oh, I went to Nepal to watch TV" would be kind of pathetic. Oh - wait...



TASTES

According to Jason P., Logan has "simple yet unpredictable tastes."

It's an apt summary.



RESTAURANT REVIEWS


Everest Steak House

Warning - there are a lot of places named 'Everest' something or other - be sure to find the exact name.

Once I find out about something, my mind keeps going back to it. If left untended for too long, it gets annoying. Obsessive. Since my mind works like a wheel, it keeps coming back to the same thing until it's resolved.

So I had to go to the Everest Steak House.

Decent seating. Smoking upstairs, non- downstairs. Fine, I can live with that.

When the waiter (minimal English) saw me writing in my notebook, he went to have another word with the kitchen staff while they were preparing my meal. I don't know what sort of alterations - if any were done. He did have a fairly horrified look on his face like he'd seen me making a note "After eating, murder staff." I'd have enjoyed having a translation of that conversation.

You get a lot of meat. It is good quality though the cooking isn't very skilled. I'd asked for medium rare but got 'rare' in the middle. Heck, maybe I just don't know how to order steak. I fully accept that is a possibility. That's a bit upmarket eating compared to my usual.

Prices for all of this can be found in the prices section, below.


Lotus Restaurant

Located on the second floor. The sign for it is not where the entrance is.

The food is cheap (under 200 NRS) and pretty decent though I'd avoid any meat but chicken as they cater for the Nepali taste which gives the consistency of meat flavored gum rather than 'tender'.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

When asking a native for something 'cheap', specify your price range. In poor countries, the natives have a very skewed view of what tourists consider 'cheap'. This is because some tourists think nothing of dropping $50 USD on a meal.



STATISTICS

For those interested, here are some statistics on Logan's Voyage blog.

For all time readers, the top ten countries in order of readership:

United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Georgia and Romania.

So, if your country appeared on that list, you can feel a vague feeling of national pride. Or, national shame - depending on how you look at the blog.



FROM FACEBOOK

Thanks to Adam B for bringing this to our attention. Note that once you allow it to track your physical location, you get some very interesting results. If you don't, it doesn't seem to work worth a crap. Not sure why.


America was founded by people not seeking to escape religious persecution but people who wanted to move here so they could persecute others. Worth remembering and it is obvious that influence is in some of the sex laws which are still on the books.



FROM STAND UP COMEDY

Quote from Frankie Boyle: "I like storms. I like lightning. What I like to do during a storm is to f*ck my girlfriend and pretend that we're taking part in the conception of the Anti-Christ... Oh, she hates that joke... Especially since we had the baby."



PRICES

Everest Steak House, Kathmandu: Average meal of steak (why else go there?) 650-900 NRS. Beers at a hefty 300-400 NRS. Deserts are around 200 NRS. The fries (chips for you English) are pretty good.

Prostitutes - initial asking price reportedly 5000 NRS. This can be beaten down. Failing that, beaten off.

Small shop rental - reportedly 10,000 NRS/month.

Kata, 80 NRS.

Getting literally anywhere in Kathmandu by taxi, 200 NRS or less. If you are paying more than that, you suck at bargaining.

Friday, April 6, 2012

BEHOLD THE POWER OF CHEESE!





BEHOLD THE POWER OF CHEESE!

I was in a store and they had a big wheel of cheese. In Asia, cheese is fairly rare. I asked if I could try a small piece to see if I liked it. The proprietor happily cut off a bit. I tried it and didn't like it. But I recognized it.

"Yak cheese?" I said.
"Female yak!" He replied.
"You try to milk males here?" I said.



ASIAN PLUMBING SUCKS

When I was in the Republic of Georgia, there was a lot of hubbub about the plumbing. If it was difficult people would disappear and not try to fix it. If they did fix it, they usually left it messed up. The lack of 'skilled workers' was amazing.

It turns out this is an 'Asia-wide' thing.

Pretty much all over India and Nepal the plumbing sucks really bad.

When I first got into the room I'm at, the toilet had a slow leak from somewhere. This would leave the floor wet. If you wanted to take a dump you had a choice. Get naked or wear wet pants afterward.

After they 'fixed' it, water would explode out of the top of the tank when the toilet was flushed. I swear to gods that sometimes it is best just to throw yourself violently to one side after flushing. I had one urinal that would spray you in the crotch after flushing.

Unless the guests complain, such things are never ever noticed or fixed.

Fortunately, after a couple of attempts, my toilet was actually fixed.

I am waiting for it to randomly explode now.



SHOE REPAIR SQUAD

A group of three Indian males wanted me to go down a dark alley with them so they could fix my sandal. After discovering that repeated attempts to lure me down the alley failed, they opted to fix it somewhere more public. Then, they offered to sell me drugs. Yippie.



BEERS

Nepal Ice - not as good as many of the others. I'd avoid it.



THE THREE UNRELIABLE AMERICAN W'S

According to a Nepali gentleman (Nirgel) I was talking to, he said there are three W's upon which - in America - one may not depend: weather, work and women.



ASIAN LORE

According to a man from Nepal, Asians will freely spend money on three things: girls, gambling and alcohol. This explains why the beer prices are insane here.



RESTAURANT REVIEW - THE MAROON RESTAURANT

Owner, Nirjal. He's super cool with very good English skills.

The breakfast is a pretty good value at 180 NRS. It's more food than I can eat. It includes toast (2 s), cooked tomato (Brit style), eggs, sausage and potatoes. Normally it also includes cornflakes or some such but I take an extra cup of coffee bringing the total I get to two. It's a filling breakfast and tastes pretty decent.

The dinners are about 350 NRS on up. I've had two and both I would call 'decent' but not wonderful.

I've discussed 'kickers' and 'draw' items with Nirjal and he may be making a very cheap breakfast to get more clients daily.


RESTAURANT REVIEW - Munchster

Pretty much a fast food place. Chicken burger and fries with small drink, 200 NRS.

The meat was so thin it only had one side.



NEPAL GANGSTER ACTIVITY

From the various locals I've spoken with, loansharking and other gangster type activities appear to be widely done within Nepal. These sort of things are invisible to most tourists but I spend a lot of time hanging out and chatting to locals. These things are of course illegal but done on a very wide scale.

They also have a lot of very strong unions which do sometimes go on strike here. Often, when you hire someone it is completely impossible to fire them. I'm thinking that will help keep the country 'developing' as opposed to 'developed'.

No, I'm not planning on pursuing this line of inquiry. It's all risk and no reward. I just thought I'd make a note of it.



ON LIVING CHEAPLY

When I was initially doing research for the trip, I looked up the average wage made in various countries hoping that would give me an idea of the cost of living. It really doesn't. Although the average person in Nepal might make less than $100 per month it is pretty grim to live like that. You will be in a very depressing area and eat only noodles and drink water. Sad.

The actual trick is to find out how much it costs to live comfortably. Right now, I can live decently on $25-$30 per day. Note that this is only spending a tad over $20 per day but I also have to add in things like the cost of the visa, transport, medicine and whatnot. When you're on the cheap end of the scale it tends to add up very quickly.

Before I went to India, I had a lot of people telling me I could live for under $10 per day. Apparently, they were willing to accept hardships which I do not want to accept or they were not good at keeping track of how much they actually spent or they were full of shit.

In both India and Nepal to live decently - with some comfort I would advise a budget of $30 to $40 per day depending on what you are doing. Don't forget that Asia has a double standard on prices and you will pay between 10% and 600% more than the natives for things. I call it the 'rip off whitey' factor.

If you want to go trekking in Nepal, your daily allowance will need to be increased. According to travelers I spoke with, prices of everything rise with the elevation.

With the exception of constantly sweating, Cambodia is thus far my country of choice for the intersection between living cheaply and comfort.

In order to get to the other countries I may skip over it on the way out but then hit it when heading back. We'll see how my schedule works out later.



TRAVELER'S LORE

By Nepali standards, Indonesia is cheap. Unfortunately for the people of Nepal, the government of Indonesia still has a grudge about World War 2. For a three day visa, citizens of Nepal get to pay $100 USD.


In Bhutan, the minimum salary is much higher than Nepal although the standard of living is much lower. A lot of Nepali go there to make some money and take it home.



QUOTES (AND PARAPHRASING) FROM SMART PEOPLE

Why the quotes? As Sir Winston Churchill said, "It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations." I've learned that people who call themselves 'educated' don't tend to be. Schooled perhaps but not educated. Since the grand sum of my nearly five decades on this planet has highlighted the vast depths of my ignorance I like quotes. You don't have to sit up all night thinking about something clever to say about a topic. Chances are good someone a lot smarter already has said something a lot more clever than anything I'll come up with. Even if I spent two nights thinking about it. So, I study quotes from time to time. Since I do, you get to as well. Lucky bastards.

"To travel hopefully is better than to arrive." - Robert Lewis Stevens, 1880.

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." - St. Augustine.

"One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy." - Sir Richard Burton. [This is the longest quote I like. Beyond this length, you may as well write a short story rather than a quote.]

"Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken." - Frank Herbert "Dune".

"The wise man travels to discover himself." - James Russell Lowell.

"Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled." - Mohammed. [A zinger from Mohammed! Who'd have thunk it?"

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca. [Side note, it's amazing how much stuff Seneca is credited with saying. He must have been a very clever dude.]

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” – Paul Theroux.

"I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list." - Susan Sontag



LOVE POEM




VIDEOS

Temple re dedication parade
Walk through Pokhara Riverside
Monastery
Parade 1
Parade 2
Potato Festival Documentary
Village of the Bored

Monkey Temple 1
Monkey Temple 2
Monkey Temple 3

Frightening Food [Note, this was the special, it was 'decent' and 350 NRS.]



PRICES

Climbing Mount Everest, $200,000 to $500,000 per person. Huge amounts have to be paid for mandatory training classes, government permits and such. After all that money is done, then you can buy gear, provisions and whatnot. It staggers me just how much it costs.

Surf n Turf, 450 NRS

Big, thick steak from Everest Restaurant which is supposedly the best in town, 600 NRS. Note, I have not eaten here.

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 | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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