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Saturday, November 28, 2015

RUN WHEN THEY GO CRAZY

RUN WHEN THEY GO CRAZY

The place I was staying - and had been staying for awhile - developed problems.

The owner has hit the 'burn out' part of owning his own guest house.

When I first got there, he set the price ($12 per night) and since it was a good price I didn't haggle.  We did agree that after the guests who were in my old room moved out I would retake it since it was a comfortable room.

Then the problems started.  The toilet (or drain?) wasn't working.  Days went by.  First, he tried to clear it himself.  Then, he got a plumber's snake.  Then, he called in a plumber.  Then, he discovered that not emptying the septic tank for four years even though it is expensive is not really a good option.

Either he got sick of me checking on the status of the room I'd been promised once per day or he figured he could rent it for more than the price he had set.  While very drunk he just kept muttering "Maybe you should go find a different place to stay."

Not wanting to be cast out during a time when many of the rooms would be full (boat race festival currently going on), I tried to pay him and tell him I could just keep the same room.  He refused payment.  The next day, I caught attitude from his family as well.

It was obviously time to move on.

Run when they go crazy.

Searched around for an hour or two and found a nice place for $10 per night with mini-fridge, AC, desk, etc.  All the stuff I like.

The only downside is that it is next to a fancy hotel which is pleased to have a nightly 'native music and dancing' show.  This is populated by the kind of tourists who think that sort of thing goes on outside of fancy hotels.

But that's only for a couple hours a night.  There are no barking dogs outside my window.

So this place is looking good enough that I ordered some new glasses.  Since the festival will be going on for about three days, it's going to be ten days until the new glasses are done.  I'm getting two pair of normal glasses (vision has gotten slightly worse), one pair of prescription sunglasses and some reading glasses for $135.

You know you are old when you are excited by reading glasses.

My stomach looks exactly like this - filled with Oreo stuffing.



MOVIE REVIEW

American Ultra

I like quirky spy movies, found this and decided to check it out.

Pretty much the first twenty minutes is the slowest thing ever and can be summed up by:  "The protagonist is in love with a girl, a bit of an apologetic looser and wanting to marry a girl.  His face is in CIA records."

Christ, the first twenty minutes were painful to get through.

It had some good parts in it but overall wasn't quite quirky, funny or interesting enough to be a movie really worth watching.  I'd give it a five, boosted up from a four just from some decent killing scenes.



BOOK REVIEW

"Agent to the Stars" by John Scalzi

The audio book is read by the talented Will Wheaton.  I like him a lot better as an adult than I did on Star Trek: TNG.

Without giving away the plot I can say that it has humor, aliens and movie stars aplenty.  Check it out.

I've got to say that his ability to read, do various characters and so on is mighty impressive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

BEAR NOODLES OR LINES DEVELOP?

GOOGLE TRANSLATE

"Bear noodle or lines develop?"  The waitress asked me on her phone.  Taking a wild guess at it, I went with making small motions.  She smiled and nodded.  Got small noodles.  I've no idea what is going on with google translate but it doesn't seem to like Thai.

The restaurants were pretty much the only thing I really didn't like about the town of Khon Kaen.  Sure, Thai food is in my top ten but after a couple weeks solid of eating it I really wanted some variety.

The hotel room was lovely and large with a non-Narnia (or dead hooker) wardrobe.

It didn't look as cool as this because Asian creativity seems to be reserved for historical times or I'm staying in places that simply can't afford it.  And there were no children creeping around.  Or goat legged freaks.

The wifi was good at the hotel until about three or four AM when some idiot would turn it off.  Till I went down and convinced them it did not need to 'rest' and the amount of electricity they would save for having it off a couple hours was negligible.

The town itself was OK and I did spend a decent amount of time wandering it.

After a couple weeks there I was ready to go somewhere else.

Because the town is not on the 'tourist trail', that means I got to travel on a series of buses and such like a local.  Cheaper, slower and more crowded.  (See 'costs' section below.)

Eventually we reached the border where a dirty scruffy guy attached himself to me saying I would need his help.  Turns out I did.

The border is poorly organized with the place you need to buy your visa stamp inexplicably far away from the place you get your stamp.  I've no idea why they do this as it is illogical and frustrating.  Also, the building is fairly innocuous and unlabeled.  Maybe they just want a reason for the dirty scam artists to be employed.

But yet...

Soon enough he started in on wanting to get me transport.  Forty dollars.  Oh yes, he was the driver.  Yes, it was a normal taxi.  You would be sharing the vehicle with two other tourists.  All lies, of course.  After I told him I wouldn't be needing transport the price dropped by half.  Note, this is pretty close to the regular price.   Because it was so late in the day (we'd end up arriving at midnight) I went along with it.

The vehicle and company oddly ended up better than advertised.  I was going with a Russian tour guide named 'Oscar' (harder 'ar' on the end than the USA pronunciation) who was getting his ride for free as his company often rented the van.  Just the driver, Oscar and I.  We had an enjoyable conversation and decided to pay a visit to the Mexican restaurant Viva before the kitchen closed.

Over my objections Oscar paid for the food.  I was suppose to hear from him over Facebook and get the next meal but I suspect he got busy.  Some other time.

And now I'm back in Siem Reap.  I'd picked up the extendable 'ordinary' visa rather than the normal tourist visa.  We'll see how I feel about staying here after a month has passed.  If I can tough it out, I may stay a second month to avoid travel during Christmas/New Year.  Bad time to travel if you don't have to.

There's not a whole lot going on worth blogging about right now.  I'm back to having a choice of food and the staff of Viva has taken to tempting me with margaritas.  Oh, the evil.



COSTS

Taxi from the hotel to the bus station, 70 baht
Bus to Kolat, 120 baht
Bus from Kolat to near the border, 155 baht
Crossing the border, 100 baht in a 'tip' to a guy who lied about everything but did help out.
Private vehicle to Siem Reap, $20

Friday, November 13, 2015

YOU CAN'T GET TO THERE FROM HERE

YOU CAN'T GET TO THERE FROM HERE

After sitting around in Khon Kaen for another few weeks, I am really bored of it.  I realize that going back to a city I've spent so much time in (Siem Reap) may get boring as well but the restaurants here are quite frankly not very good.

Great hotel room (aside from no mini fridge) but not great food.

I miss Mexican food.

So on Monday it is 'bug out' time.

I decided today to go to the bus station to find out what the 'real deal' is.  Realize that a lot of what you read on the internet either turns out to be fiction or wildly outdated.  Or just can't seem to happen for you for unknown reasons.  It's nothing like Western Europe where getting around is bloody easy, though expensive.

Any time you want information within Eastern Europe or SE Asia, you will usually consult what I think of as a 'brain trust'.  It is seldom, outside of tourist areas, where you will find one person who is knowledgeable about giving directions to the foreigner.   When you consult someone, they will gather others in.  Much like a beehive, they will all work together to find the solution.

It turns out to be about half an hour, two different dialects of Thai and a lot of arm waving.  Google translate seems about butt useless in so far as translating Thai.  Guess it is just 'too foreign' of language.  Hell, they can't even agree on English spellings of different place names.  You'll find some wildly different ones.  I've no idea why that is.

After consulting with one 'brain trust' at the hotel, a taxi was summoned and he took me to a bus station I'd not been to before.  This was good news as I thought I'd have to go to the half an hour out of town bus station.  This one was in town.  There, we consulted with another four person brain trust.

I just kept repeating I wanted to go to Cambodia.  The consensus was that 'you can't get to there from here'.  Apparently, Khon Kaen is where you can easily get a bus to destinations northward.  Laos, Vietnam, northern Thailand.  No problem.  But, to go to the south, I need to go to a place which might be called "Kolat".

I say 'might be' because I can't find it on a map.  I'm told that the bus ticket is 116 baht.  About $4.

According to Google, Kolat might be Korat (the ole L and R problem Asians seem to have, again) which is also known as Nakhon Ratchasima.  I say just agree on a town name and stick with it.  Not in Asia - it would make things too easy.  I'm sure there is some sort of strange reason going back to 'pre-USA' times for it.  Goat trails and all that.

My plan is just to 'punt'.  Just show up early on Monday, get a bus ticket then when I show up there (wherever there is) work on getting a bus ticket to the border of Cambodia.  And try not to get ripped off too badly.

This kind of 'fuck it, let's just go' travel might not be for everyone but it should be interesting.


If you ever need to travel to Khon Kaen, print out and cut out this business card.  It seems everyone in town knows where this place is.  For 380 baht, you just can't beat it.  I like the hotel very much and the people are very friendly - though they don't speak a whole lot of English.



TV SHOW REVIEW

Blindspot

Girl chemically castrated of all her memories shows up naked and covered with tattoos.

Despite looking like a really thin model, somehow she is a fighting badass.

They team her up with a cop who goes with his instincts rather than procedure and likes to go into dangerous situations alone rather than have any backup.  Because your gut and being alone work out so well.

It's another in the long list of 'buddy' movies pushed out by the lazy writers of Hollywood (or wherever this came from).  Rather than have two guys or two girls, they will put in the 'will they or won't they' factor.  See Bones.

Who did bone.

It's pretty average and worth watching if you are so bored you are thinking about cutting yourself.  Watch this instead of self harming.

Though it may make you want to have shitty tats that are so obscure it takes some cryptographer to figure it out.

In addition to the rather blah main actors, the supporting cast is forgettable as well.

I shall not make any predictions about how long this series will go on because what I like - and what the average person likes - are way different.

I just don't see this as a quality product nor neat enough to push it beyond a 4/10.  You can watch it to get through some time but you won't be excited about it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

HOW TO TAKE A SHOWER

NIGHT BARBER

Nearby to my hotel is a Thai husband and wife who work at and own a small restaurant I sometimes frequent.  Their English is pretty decent though sometimes a bit rough.

My hair had gotten to where I began to feel like a 'dirty hippy' (about two centimeters) so it was time to get that shit chopped off.

I asked the lady at the restaurant and got confusing directions.  "Go up this street to the traffic jam."  You mean the traffic light?  No, the traffic jam.  Looked at the street, no traffic jam.  Fuck it, I'll find one eventually.


Thanking her, I wandered up the street looking for the turnoff but instead found what looked to be a popular barber.  After scouting around, I went back and sat to wait for the sullen barber to finish his other three customers.

A teen who had just finished up said he would take me to a different barber that was 'very close by'.  Screw it, I thought, why not.  There was some hesitation when he and his buddy got onto their scooters but I figured 'what the hell, I haven't had much exercise today because the foot was hurting earlier' so I climbed on.

They took me to a place near the McDonald's/KFC that looked to be a high volume fancy boutique.  I'm use to getting my hair cut at the kind of place where if you wear long pants and socks you'll want to tuck the pants into the socks to keep the rats from climbing up.  Fortunately, I don't wear socks or long pants.


This place looked way too fancy for me.  "How much is it for a shave and a haircut?"  The sullen barber hole in the wall place we'd just left was 150 baht.  The guy assured me it was 200 baht and even offered to wait for me to give me a lift back.  Since it was only half dozen blocks or so from where I'd started - and my foot was giving me less trouble - I assured him I could make it back.  I thanked them profusely for their kindness.

This is one of the huge differences between northern and southern Thailand.  All of the tourists (including the ones who would be locked up in the USA for their actions) go to southern Thailand.  As a result, the Thais there have been described by expats and tourists as 'mercenary'.  In the north, they haven't gotten so burned out on tourists - you are seen as a rarity.  Like finding a dead leprechaun in your box of Lucky Charms cereal.


The place was run by either a ladyboy or transvestite who had smashed into the wrong side of forty.  I negotiated with her as they wanted to charge me 250 baht.  After getting it down to 200 baht for a 'shave and a haircut', I had all the hair removed.  Any drill sergeant would have been well pleased with my shiny melon.

Approaching her to pay, I said "Am I pretty now?"  "No!"  Not even any hesitation.  Ain't that a bitch?


Another good thing about going to that part of town at night is it seems to be the location of a huge night market - and that means Thai street food.   There were a lot of things which looked like they would have been right at home in the writings of Abdul Alhazred rather than on the end of a skewer.  Since my bowels haven't been acting up too badly lately, I'll take them out tomorrow night.

If you don't know what this is, you clearly haven't read enough Lovecraft.

It's one of the interesting things about SE Asia.  People don't like to go out during the day (other than to work, presumably) so between about sundown and ten PM is when everything happens.  After that, most people head right to bed.  It's a fairly narrow window.

Since I don't enjoy traveling out at night (it's when all the bad shit happens), I normally don't participate much in this.



TRAVELER'S TIP

Need to find someone who can speak English?  Here are some places you might find someone.

Hotels/hostels/guesthouses
Pharmacy/hospital
Computer/phone supply store

Essentially, you are looking for educated people.  Some young people will be able to speak English but are often 'shy' about attempting it.



HOW TO TAKE A SHOWER


This works for anywhere you are staying - especially if it is a cheap place.

Most people like to get into the shower and soak in the water, letting the pulse relax them.  Eventually they get down to the business of soap and cleaning.  Or, applying a lot of chemicals if they are so inclined.

In Asia especially, the order must be reversed.

As soon as the water hits a bearable level, you ruthlessly clean yourself as quickly and efficiently as possible.  After that, you can stand around and soak.

Why?

Because the electricity powering the 'oh god will this electrocute me' device that heats the water (a bit) may suddenly go off.

Or the hot water may suddenly end.

Or the temperature of the water may suddenly erratically alternate between scalding and ice crystals.

Or you may actually begin to get electrocuted.


Don't even think about complaining to the management.  They will either tell you there is nothing they can do, tell you to wait 'five minutes' (a unit of time ranging between twenty minutes and never) or offer to have you trundle all your crap to a different room.  Which will either have the same or worse problems.

Showering in this manner gives you the greatest chance of actually getting 'clean' before everything goes to hell.



BORDER CROSSING - THAILAND TO CAMBODIA

This is a fantastic article.



TV SHOW REVIEW

Limitless (2015)

They took something which is scientifically not correct (the 'we only use 10% of our brain' misconception) and made a movie out of it.  This in turn has spawned a TV show.

It's pretty much a 'buddy cop' drama - one of the few things they feel they really can't beat to death in TV and movies.  Though they do try.

It's OK (5/10 on my scale) but again, the writers are lazy.  For someone who is suppose to suddenly be the 'smartest guy in the area' from taking this wunder drug (yes, I used the German spelling for a double entendre thing there.  If you don't get the meaning, go back to WW2.) this guy is about as clever as spaghetti.  You'd think that it would be the whole 'plans within plans' thing.  You'd be wrong.  Lazy writing.


Even if he isn't the kind of guy who thinks like that, being on the drug allows him instant recall and such - he could simply read 'The Prince' and be in a much better position.



Sunday, November 1, 2015

FIFTY BAHT

BECAUSE FUCK VIETNAM

No Facebook allowing sonsabitches!

But seriously - not even interested in going back.  After listening to a half dozen stories from various tourists who got mugged (as in 'I have a knife - give me your shit') I'm thinking 'yeah - nothing I am even interested in seeing there'.

But Logan, they have Pho!  For those who don't know, Pho is pretty much the only famous food they seem to have in Vietnam.  It's thick noodled soup.  Whoopie fucking do!

It will never look this good.

No.  Not interested at this time in going back.  Perhaps in the future but for now it is all about attempting to defeat my base desires to save money.  Excuse me while I take another sip of my overpriced beer then have a cigarette.  Obviously, defeating these 'base desires' is an ongoing process.  And they have almond M&M's at the 7-11.  Which doesn't fucking help things.

At least they don't have them in cheap kilo bags here or I'd be done.

After spending a couple weeks in a place most tourists spend a couple days in - usually drunk - it was time to move on.  Though my horrible stomach problems (gosh that sounds nicer than reality) had cleared up, my conjunctivitis hadn't and I started wondering if heading back to Thailand might help.  Forgetting for a minute that I'd initially gotten it in Thailand.

Not a picture I took but it does summarize Laos for me.  Drunken white people on inter-tubes.   If they were more drunk and maybe there was a dead body floating down steam in the background, it would be more accurate.

Because I was feeling a bit bored, I decided to ramp up the difficulty on myself a bit and cross the border 'as the locals do'.

It was cheap though a bit confusing and takes more time.

I'd taken the luxury VIP bus (VIP in name only) to Vientiane.  Rather than take the large tuk tuks which were piling ten or a dozen bewildered tourists at a time on - and charging them 50,000 to 80,000 kip each, I wandered around the neighborhood of the bus station for awhile to see what was there.

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

It's kind of funny how old west ghost towns have better architecture and building skills than a lot of the places I currently live.  In this picture, we show a tumble weed.  Which they should import to the area near the bus station and just have it blow around to show how desolate the place is.

It is pretty much a desolate no man's land.  Not as bad as the 38th parallel but pretty ugly.  I did manage to find one hotel but they wanted 120,000 kip per night.  Given the remoteness of the location, I thought the price was pretty outrageous.  After getting my fill of wandering around with all my earthly possessions weighing me down, I wandered back to the bus station and checked it out.

Eventually I came across a clean nice (gift from your friends in Japan!  Forget about history, please!) bus which could take me on the same journey as the tourists had for 50,000 to 80,000 for 5000 kip.

Nearly free.

In fact, the bus driver told me that it could take me to Thailand.

Not quite right, but it turned out to be close enough.

Keep in mind that nobody spoke any English.  This was mostly hand signs and a little phone translation.  It seems that Thai doesn't translate well on the phone.  If you translate something into Thai then that back into English it is completely incomprehensible.  Not sure what's up with their language or the translation.

The bus driver kindly stopped the bus in the center of town and directed me to some other buses.  Ticket for this one was 6000 kip and it took me to 'Friendship Bridge'.

Completely uninspiring architecture

 I converted my remaining kip into baht, paid my 50 baht 'overtime' bribe and was checked out of Laos.

No foot traffic is permitted on Friendship bridge - despite the sidewalks.  My guess is so that people get to spend money on the 50 baht bus that takes you the short distance over to the Thai border.  It would be a long walk with all of the gear so I didn't begrudge the bus.

On the Thai side, the only hiccup was I kept insisting I would be staying at an address in Thailand while showing the border guard a Laos business card.  Eventually, the guard got it into his head that I was an idiot.  Eventually, I dug up the correct card.  I don't think they really give a shit about where you are going to be staying but it is more that 'every box must be filled out'.  My guess is that sometime in the past they had an 'incident' (like with the trains and booze - see early blog entries).  They seem very reactionary in Thailand.  Incident, new rules.  Kind of like the USA but with less self serving evil initially.  See also the TSA.

It's all about the money.

 Another 50 baht (they like that number) tuk tuk ride from the border to the not as close as I'd hoped train station and I was off.

Not really - more of buy a ticket, sit and wait.

At first, the man behind the counter wanted to sell me a third class ticket - for about 50 baht.  After traveling as many hours as I had, I knew better.  They didn't have any first class (non-existent) so I picked up a second class ticket for 140 baht.  Aside from more comfort, you also have a much higher chance of sitting with or near people who speak English.  They can tell you many wonderful things including 'this is your stop'.

Needless to say, it was bloody easy to get back to a hotel (50 baht - really) that I had the business card for once I again reached Khon Kaen.

It's kind of sad I didn't have a bunch of 50 baht notes on me.

I'm pondering the idea of figuring out what train stops would be on my way to Siem Reap (Mexican food!) and just hitting those as I go.

Now that's pretty jaded.  I'm just going to a town to eat food that is foreign to it.  And don't forget their margaritas...



TRAVELER'S TIPS

When traveling to Thailand, get an address of a hotel.  The full address.  Be sure to write it down on the forms you have to fill out when entering the country.  It doesn't matter if you will be actually staying there, have ever stayed there or if it even exists - so long as it looks authentic.  Forms like to have every box filled out.


As we've covered before, you want to carry a notebook.  I would go so far as to say 'if you're not carrying a notebook and a pen, you are fucking up badly'.  Jotting down interesting things, writing your memoirs, having someone write the name of a place in the local language to make it easy to show to the non-English speaking cab driver and so on.  The notebook is also super handy for storing business cards, small maps, business cards, etc.  Just be sure to take out these things before handing it to a local to read or they will inevitably dump all of that stuff out.  Regardless of how carefully you try to hand it to them, they will take it by a corner and give it a quick shake.  I've no idea why.  Just keep all of your lose papers in a bundle so you can quickly remove them.  Notebook - small hardback, no spiral.  Trust me.


If you want to travel like a local, the trick is you have to slow down.  Take some time to just sit down and watch how things function.  Spend time wandering around.  You can save a ton of money if you do that.  Most people don't.  They are tired, cranky, in a hurry or just lazy.  Nothing wrong with that but if you want to save money you have to figure out what the 'local track' is and hop on to that instead of the more expensive - but faster, more convenient and a bit more English spoken - tourist track.



LAOS CUSTOMS

While I was sitting around drinking with some Laos guys, I asked why there were no 'public displays of affection' - even between married couples.

The reason they gave is that in Laos (and possibly northern Thailand, not sure on this) there is no 'try before you buy' - IE premarital sex.  So, everyone is apparently 'setting an example for the kiddies'.

Looking at it from the filters of the USA culture, this is baffling in a lot of aspects.  First, in the USA they have a long tradition of teaching 'do as I say, not as I do'.  Also, in the USA a good example would probably not override most teen hormones.

Interesting and confusing to me.




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 | England: Slough - Lancaster

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