Monthly Archives: February 2008

I Need Help

Posted by on February 16, 2008

I’m putting up the bat signal on this one. I prefer to keep my posts on the website on topic with my trip, but I need help and I figure it would be easiest to just make a general plea.

There are several things I’d like to fix on my site before I leave Melbourne and I’m having problems getting help. I am in need of someone who knows php and javascript to do some changes to the WordPress template I’m using for my site.

1) The list of places and World Heritage sites on the right is getting way too long. It is only going to get bigger. I’d like to make the list collapsible so it doesn’t take up as much space. If you know how to do such things, what I’m doing right now is just plain HTML by hand. Every time I go to a new place I just add a new bullet in the outline. I have no problem continuing to do it by hand, but I need the script to make it collapse. If you view source, you can see the exact HTML I’m using.

2) If you notice, there aren’t links at the bottom of the page for “older” and “newer”. This makes it really hard to navigate to older posts for people who first discover the website. I’ve seen other sites using my theme which have this, so it should be possible, but I have no idea what to do to turn it on.

3) I want to make some changes to my header.

I think these things might be pretty easy if the right person looks at it.

If anyone can help, or if you know anyone who can help, please let me know.

First Impressions of Melbourne

Posted by on February 15, 2008

I’m plowing through my photos. If you take a look at my Flickr stream, you can seem I finished Sabah and Jakarta yesterday. I’m hoping to get everything else done today. I think everyone at this hostel thinks I’m weird because I sat in front of my computer most of yesterday.

The process of getting my passport renewed is much more complicated than it needs to be. I went to the US Consulate which is close to where I’m staying. They said I had to schedule an appointment to get my passport renewed. However, I couldn’t just schedule an appointment, I had to go online to schedule an appointment. The consulate website doesn’t let you schedule an appointment for a normal passport renewal, just for the oddball cases. So I sent an email which I haven’t gotten a reply to yet. (I have sent email to embassies and consulates in Fiji and the Solomon Islands as well. Never got a reply from them either).

So in addition to making it hard to even schedule an appointment, they wont give you the forms to fill out either. You have to print those off of pdf forms from the website. Getting the pdf isn’t a big deal, but finding a printer is a pain in the ass.

I know, just know, that if I can get an appointment and fill out the form correctly, something else will happen to screw this up. That is how much faith I have in bureaucracy.

The area around my hostel is very nice. I’m a block from the botanical garden, which is probably the nicest urban park I’ve ever seen. South of me is another park with six cricket ovals and just north of the Botanical Garden is Rod Laver Stadium where they host the Australian Open.

Melbourne seems expensive. This is probably a combination of three things: 1) I’m used to cheap prices the last two months, 2) Melbourne is a big city, and 3) The dollar has taken a big dump against the Australian dollar. Like in Canada, prices didn’t change to reflect the shift. Here, they might never shift because there isn’t the proximity or reliance on the US like there is in Canada.

I would really like to go see an Australian rules football match and/or a cricket match before I leave. I have no clue what the rules are to either sport, but it would be fun (so long as the cricket match isn’t one of those week long games).

Trip Odometer

Posted by on February 14, 2008

Yesterday marked the 11 month anniversary of me closing on my house and starting my trip. I took the time and made an estimate of how far I’ve traveled during the last 11 months. I used Google Earth for this estimate. I rounded everything to the nearest 10 miles. It doesn’t include short trips, walking, cab rides, subway rides, etc. I’m sure this is an underestimation as many of the distances I used straight lines, not actual routes.


Minneapolis - Appleton RT 520 miles
Minneapolis to Las Vegas RT - 2,640 miles
Minneapolis to Dallas - 870 miles
Dallas to San Antonio - 250 miles
San Antonio to Phoenix - 850 miles
Phoenix to Los Angles - 350 miles
Los Angles to Hilo - 2,500 miles
Hawaii - 250 miles
Honolulu to Papeete - 2,720 miles
Papeete to Easter Island RT - 5,260 miles
Papeete to Rarotonga - 710 miles
Rarotonga to Auckland - 1,850 miles
New Zealand - 1,800 miles
Auckland to Nadi - 1,300 miles
Yawasawas - 180 miles
Nadi to Apia RT - 1,600 miles
Apia to Pago Pago RT - 150 miles
Apia to Nuku'alofa RT - 1,100 miles
Samoa - 150 miles
Nadi to Suva RT - 180 miles
Nadi to Noumea - 750 miles
Noumea to Port Vila - 340 miles
Port Vila to Honiara - 800 miles
Honiara to Rennell RT - 320 miles
Honiara to Nauru - 770 miles
Nauru to Tarawa - 430 miles
Tarawa to Nadi - 1,340 miles
Nadi to Honolulu - 3,180 miles
Honolulu to Guam - 3,790 miles
Guam - 100 miles
Guam to Saipan RT - 280 miles
Guam to Majuro RT - 3,700 miles
Guam to Palau - 820 miles
Palau to Manila - 1,030 miles
Luzon - 600 miles
Manila to Palawan RT - 720 miles
Manila to Taipei - 730 miles
Tapiei to Okinawa - 420 miles
Okinawa to Kobe - 680 miles
Kobe to Kagoshima - 310 miles
Kagoshima to Yakushima RT - 170 miles
Kagoshima to Hiroshima - 290 miles
Hiroshima to Kobe - 150 miles
Kobe to Kyoto - 40 miles
Kyoto to Osaka - 30 miles
Osaka to Tokyo - 260 miles
Tokyo to Nikko RT - 150 miles
Tokyo to Fukuoka - 600 miles
Fukoka to Busan - 130 miles
Busan to Gyeongju - 50 miles
Gyeongju to Seoul - 200 miles
Seoul to Hong Kong - 1,290 miles
Hong Kong to Macau RT - 80 miles
Hong Kong to Brunei - 1.190 miles
Brunei to Miri - 80 miles
Miri to Mulu - 70 miles
Mulu to Kota Kinabalu - 190 miles
Kota Kinabalu to KL - 1.030 miles
KL to Jakarta - 730 miles
Jakarta to Yogyakarta - 270 miles
Yogyakarta to Bali - 400 miles
Bali - 100 miles
Bali to East Timor - 710 miles
East Timor to Darwin - 450 miles
Darwin to Melbourne - 2,000 miles

Grand Total: 57,000 miles or approximately 92,000 kilometers

Here is a much nicer visual representation of the trip:


View Larger Map

11 Months Traveling And I Never Left Azeroth

Posted by on February 13, 2008

This post is going to divide people who read it into two groups: one will roll their eyes and say OMG, and the other group will laugh out loud and say OMG! The first group will have no clue what the hell I’m talking about, and the second group will know exactly what I’m talking about.

When you travel, especially traveling alone, you often have lots of time on your hands. You can’t always just being running around visiting things non-stop. That might work when you are on a brief vacation, but when you are doing long term travel, you can burn out really quick.

Before I started my trip I was an pretty avid World of Warcraft player. I was the leader of a raiding guild on Dark Iron (Djork) and was one of the first level 60 and 70 characters on my server.

When my trip started, I never canceled my WoW account. While I can’t really play seriously anymore, I have been able to log on every so often from different places. I can’t say I’ve spent much time playing and I wouldn’t even call what I do “playing”. I usually just log on and say hello to my friends in the guild for a few minutes. I’m basically using it as a glorified chat client. I have done some daily quests and simple things, but that is about it. Playing on satellite connections in the middle of the ocean doesn’t really make for an awesome playing experience. (Please, spare me the comments about how traveling and playing video games is a waste of time. I don’t play much and after you have traveled solo for a year, you can preach to me.)

To date, I have logged on from 23 different countries and territories. The only reason I am writing about this is that I think it is some sort of record. I have no clue and I am sure no one keeps track of these sort of things, but I don’t think the average WoW player does much international travel, let alone try to log on while they are overseas.

Here is the complete list:

  1. USA
  2. French Polynesia (a cafe in Papeete)
  3. Cook Islands (a cafe in Rarotonga)
  4. New Zealand (a Starbucks in Auckland)
  5. Fiji (an internet cafe in Suva)
  6. Samoa (with great difficulty from an internet cafe in Apia)
  7. American Samoa (Tradewinds Hotel)
  8. New Caledonia (Le Meridian Hotel. Very slow)
  9. Vanuatu (hotel in Port Vila)
  10. Solomon Islands (King Solomon Hotel)
  11. Guam (Days Inn near the airport)
  12. CNMI (hotel in Saipan)
  13. Palau (motel in Korror)
  14. Philippines (internet cafe in Makati)
  15. Taiwan (hostel in Taipei)
  16. Japan (several places)
  17. South Korea (hostel in Busan)
  18. Hong Kong (Chungking Mansion)
  19. Macau (McDonald’s)
  20. Brunei (internet cafe in BSB)
  21. Malaysia (hostel in Kota Kinabalu)
  22. Indonesia (restaurant in Bali)
  23. Australia (Hostel in Melbourne)

If I had been trying, I could have logged on in a few more locations. Easter Island and the Marshall Islands would have been possible if I made the effort.

Vacation From Vacation

Posted by on February 13, 2008

I’ve started my Melbourne vacation from vacation. It has been a pretty productive first day. I got a new site up and running. It is called Where On Google Earth?. It is pretty simple. I put up an image from Google Earth and you guess where it is from.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be going through my backlog of article I’ve intended to write as well as going through some of the photos which are sitting on my hard drive.

So far, I’m enjoying Australia, but it does seem expensive. The price of a 600ml bottle of Diet Coke (about 20oz) is A$3.50 (about US$3.25). That almost rivals the cost of Tahiti. It is about 3x the cost I’ve seen everywhere else. Other things don’t seem as expensive, but it is still on the high end of prices I’ve seen so far.

The internet here is reasonably fast. Something which I am taking full advantage of.

Tomorrow, in addition to photos, I’ll be going to the US Consulate in Melbourne to get my passport renewed. That should take about 2 weeks to process from what I’ve heard.

My Interesting Morning

Posted by on February 10, 2008

So, I wake up this morning before dawn to check my email before my flight. I do what I do, grab my bags and get a cab. The cab driver doesn’t really speak English and points towards the government palace, makes a shooting action with his fingers and says “very bad, very bad”.

I get to the airport and there are a bunch of Australian troops there with their guns drawn. I didn’t really put the two together and just sort of sat and waited for the plane to load. There were no maintainace workers, no weather problems and no one seemed late. Nonetheless, the flight was 90 minutes late in taking off.

When we land in Darwin, we are met by some Australian police and they tell us that the President of East Timor was assassinated this morning.

I get to a computer a few minutes ago and find out he wasn’t killed. Him and the Prime Minister were both attacked. Someone mentioned something about a rebel leader who was out in the bush being killed last night, but I have heard no confirmation of that in the news.

I took some video yesterday of a protest or a march or something I saw on the streets of Dili. I have no idea if the two are linked.

Anyway, I’m safely in Darwin, Australia. Going to get something to eat and try to kill 10 hours until I go back to the airport. I’ll be sleeping in an airplane tonight.

Exit, Stage East

Posted by on February 10, 2008

I leave Dili for Darwin in a few hours.

While I haven’t spent much time here in East Timor, the experience has been very eye opening. I spent yesterday walking the streets of Dili taking video. I happened upon a demonstration by a local martial arts club (aka gang). Once I get settled in Australia, you will be assaulted with all the photos and lengthy posts I’ve promised to write over the last month.

My flight from Darwin to Melbourne is at Midnight, so I’ll basically have to kill 12 hours in Darwin. I really hope there are lockers where I can store my bag at the airport.

I’ve been really looking forward to Australia. Perhaps almost too much. I’ve been getting lots of advice from Aussies about what to see and do in the country.

I am guessing I’ll be logging on in Darwin at a Starbucks or something. The internet here is VERY slow. I think the whole country is on dial-up. This is probably on a par with the quality of the internet I found in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

First Impressions of Timor Leste

Posted by on February 8, 2008

East Timor. Image from Wikipedia

East Timor. Image from Wikipedia

To begin to explain Timor Leste (East Timor) it is probably necessary to start at the beginning and give some background to the country. It is a place that most people are probably not familiar with and as countries go, it is relatively new.

If you look at a map of this part of the world, what is geographically known as the Malay Archepelego, it is divided up between several countries: The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea. All of those countries which exist today have borders as a result of some decision made by European governments hundreds of years ago. What is today the Philippines is the territory which was a former Spanish Colony. Malayisa was several former British Colonies (Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo), Brunei was a British “protectorate”, Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies, Papua New Guinea was the British half of the island of New Guinea and Timor Leste was Portugals hunk of the area.

The process of independence for these countries all followed different paths. In the case of East Timor, the Portugese left in 1975. They were scheduled to become an independent country, but were invaded by Indonesia, who (under Suharto) believed that all the territory in this area should be Indonesian. They Indonesians did something similar in 1965 when it invaded Dutch New Guinea and annexed it to Indonesia as the province of Irian Jaya.

The United States and Australia supported the Indonesian government at the time to prevent a Chinese supported communist government from taking hold in East Timor.

The invasion didn’t sit well with the East Timorese. The certainly had no say in the matter, and moreover, had very little in common with the rest of Indonesia. Unlike the former Dutch colony, they were primarily Catholic, not Muslim. This set off an independence struggle which lasted until the UN held a referendum. In 2002, East Timor became an independent country and got a seat in the UN.

It is interesting to note what the name of the country means. The island of Timor is a bastardization of Timur which means “east” in both Malay and Indonesian. The province of East Java for example is “Jawa Timur” in Indonesian. The name Timor was given to the island because it is the eastern most of the Sunda Island chain. The name East Timor really means “East East”. Timor Leste is “East Timor” in Portugese.

Of all the places I’ve been on my trip, East Timor has the most recent history of violence. In 2006 violence erupted between factions and the UN was called in again.

On paper, East Timor has one of the lowest per capita GDPs in the world at around $800 per person, per year. The moment you leave the airport, across the street you see a refugee camp run by the UN High Commission on Refugees. It is packed with flimsy tents. I didn’t expect to see or have heard of any refugees in East Timor prior to arriving here.

As you drive into Dili, you also can’t help but notice that 10-20% of all the vehicles are white with UN written on the side. There are also helicopters flying around everywhere. Everyone at the place I’m staying either works for the UN or an NGO.

Of the places I’ve been, East Timor reminds me most of the Solomon Islands. Very poor with peace keepers. In the case of the Solomons, they had RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) which is mostly Australian and New Zealand troops with some cops from other island nations.

I’m not sure how liked and wanted the UN is here. I haven’t been here a day yet. On one hand, they spend a ton of money and probably do keep violence from springing up. On the other hand, I’m sure a lot of the locals resent a bunch of foreigners running around in nice cars, flying helicopters everywhere and living in gated communities like kings.

Many of the houses you see on the road in from the airport were just cement shells with no roofs. It looked like photos you’d see of a bombed out city after WWII.

The currency in East Timor is the US Dollar, which is surprising, but a good move. Picking a stable currency is a smart move for a small country and avoids the problems with rampant inflation you see in other countries (Indonesia has 10,000 rupiah to the dollar approximately). They might have been better off with the Australian Dollar or the Euro, but even with the recent slide of the dollar, it was probably a smart move.

Going from Bali to East Timor really shows the difference between the cost of living and the difference in currency values. By all measures, Java and Bali are more developed than East Timor, yet things are often cheaper there. I think much of that is explained by the currency (although, prices might be radically different once you get away from Dili. I’m sure foreigners get a charged a premium for somethings.)

I’m only here for three days, so I don’t know how much of the area beyond Dili I’ll be exploring. I think the capital and talking to locals and UN officials will easily fill up my time.

Getting the Hell out of Bali

Posted by on February 7, 2008

I am sick of Bali.

To be more precise, I’m sick of every single person I encounter while walking down the street harassing me to buy their shit. I literally can’t go 10 seconds without someone trying to get me to take a taxi, get a massage, buy their cheap crap, eat in their restaurant or rent their motorbike.

I’ve experienced this sort of thing before in Manila and Hong Kong, but never anything close to the degree which I’ve experienced it in Bali. In Java, at worst, someone would come up to me and want to practice English. They’d talk, ask about the Presidential elections and just chat. Here, you are a walking dollar sign. It has made my experience in Bali less and less enjoyable the longer I’ve had to stay.

I’m staying in Kuta which is sort of the tourist area, but the thing is, it is actually worse as you go into the island. When I took my day tour, I actually had about six women pushing and rushing up to my car door to sell me crap when our car pulled in to park.

it isn’t just that they try to sell you stuff. I actually understand that and get it. It is part of the territory when you visit a place like Bali. However, when they stick t-shirts and postcards in your face, they literally stick it in your face and will not back away when you say “no”, as if they were trying to find new ways to make sure you didn’t buy anything from them.

If you should make the mistake of buying something when you are on the beach, you will be mobbed by people who saw you buy something. They must think that anyone who will buy one thing will buy an infinite number of things. Again, it is as if they they want to make sure you never by anything by making the experience as unpleasant as possible.

I have also been highly annoyed because it has been so difficult to get a ticket to Dili, East Timor.

I first stopped at local places that had “Airline Tickets” on a sign out front. The first three places didn’t do international tickets. I eventually found one that only took cash and didn’t have a computer. Their “reservation system” consisted of calling some guy. When they called their “guy”, he kept quoting me different prices for a one way ticket to Dili based on how long I was staying. It made no sense.

There is one and only one airline which flies from Bali to Dili and their website doesn’t do online reservations.

I eventually just asked the front desk at the place I was staying where a real travel agency was. They made a call to their “guy” and worked it out, but to pay with a credit card, they had to send a courier over to get a photocopy of my credit card. There is no way in hell I’m going to make a photocopy of my credit card and give it to some “guy”. I eventually had to get a ride to the travel agency to take care of it in person.

East Timor has to be one of the hardest to reach countries in the world, which is especially odd considering it is just north of Australia and connected to a large country like Indonesia. There is also one and only one airline which flies to Australia and that flies into Darwin. The flights from Bali and Darwin are the only flights which service the entire country of East Timor.

My flight to Darwin was easy to book as was my flight from Darwin to Melbourne. The Darwin to Melbourne leg is by far the longest, but also the cheapest. Competition will do that.

I have to kill 12 hours in Darwin because my flight to Melbourne leaves at 12:30am Tuesday morning. I hope they have lockers at the Darwin airport.

I think I’m also becoming frustrated because I’ve been sort of mentally looking forward to taking time off in Melbourne and taking care of business. It is odd that when you take a vacation from vacation, you end up working and doing stuff. It really is an anti-vacation. Everything which is delaying that is making me frustrated and pissing me off.

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before. I visited a spa. The area around my hotel has a lot of spas which are really cheap. You can get a massage, facial, body scrub, and a pedicure for $15. That’s about 2 hours of time. There is really very little overhead and labor is cheap, so you see a lot of spas around Bali. It was quite nice, especially considering I didn’t have to pay much for it.

I’ve heard spotty things about the Internet in East Timor, so I have no idea how often I’ll be able to log on. I’m sure I’ll manage at least one post, but don’t expect too much the next few days.