Monthly Archives: February 2009

Last Day in Bahrain

Posted by on February 10, 2009

Today I had an interview with Nina Lauri from the Bahrain Tribune. We went to Fort Bahrain, a World Heritage Site and talked for two hours. I learned more about Bahrain in those two hours than I did during the several days I’ve been here. It is good to have a local explain things to you that you can’t see in only a few days.

Among the many things I learned about was the religious divide in the country (Sunni vs Shia), and saw some anti-government graffiti on the way out from the fort and some photos of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (he is the head Shia official in Iraq)

Tonight is my last night in Bahrain. Tomorrow I’m off to Kuwait for two days and then Egypt. The flights from Kuwait to Cairo are very cheap, so the stay over in Kuwait City with hotel is almost the same a flight from Bahrain.

There isn’t a ton in Kuwait I’m that interested in seeing. I’ll do a day tour of Kuwait city or something similar and unless something exciting comes up, my primary focus for the next few weeks is obviously Egypt. The great pyramids and the ancient Egyptian ruins on the Nile are near the top of things to see in the entire world. I also plan on going diving in the Red Sea, which is something I haven’t done since last September in Phuket, Thailand.

I am crossing my fingers that bandwidth in Cairo will be better than in the Gulf states. I realize I have no reason to believe it will be so, but a guy can hope.

Question & Answer #2

Posted by on February 9, 2009

Ryan Ricard via Facebook: What is the weirdest thing you ate? Tastiest thing you ate?

Weirdest thing would probably have to be grasshopper (which gave me food poisoning) or some BBQ pig intestines I got from street vendors in Bangkok. I also had some Mekong river weed in Luang Prabang, Laos, which was actually pretty good. It was like a very light cracker.

I had fish and chips in Rarotonga made out of parrot fish, which I thought was sort of odd.

The best foods I’ve had would include:

  • Foie gras from Piccaso’s restaurant in Las Vegas. I ate there at the very start of my trip. I had always seen it used on the Iron Chef and wanted to taste it myself. It was great.
  • Samgyupsal in Busan, South Korea. It basically giant slabs of bacon you cook at your table. You cut the pork with a scissorsand wrap it in lettuce. It was a memorable meal because I was taken there by a woman I met on the boat from Fukuoka to Busan.
  • Poisson Cru in Tahiti. This is the national dish of French Polynesia and it was great. I had it at a Roulette (lunch wagon) in Papeete. It is raw or seared tuna in a coconut sauce with cucumber and onion. It is really good.
  • Hommos with shawarma. I’ve been eating this all the time in the Middle East. It is just hommos with lamb and sometimes pine nuts mixed in. Simple but good. (FYI, Hommos is how I’ve seen it spelled in the Gulf, not hummus.)
  • Rambutan. I have discovered this fruit on my travels. I love it. I could eat it all day.
  • Japanese set dinner. I had several while I was in Japan. The courses may very, but every one was amazing. In Yakushima I had a crystal clear fish soup that was the best soup I’ve ever had in my life.

Bill Zalenski via Facebook: What do you carry on your daily excursions?

If I am just walking around I will usually have my wallet with me inside a special zippered pocket inside my front pockets, my iPod touch and my point and shoot camera.

If I am out at some tourist attraction, I will also have my camera bag with me. The contents of my camera bag is probably worthy of an entire post by itself. The bag just goes over one shoulder and has my SLR and my video camera.

If I am going out to eat I will bring my small backpack with me with a book and/or my laptop inside. If I bring my laptop I also bring a laptop cable.

@jessiev I’d love to know why you choose where you’re headed next. thanks!

The next countries I’ll be visiting:

  • Kuwait. I don’t plan on spending too much time here, but give the importance of the country in the last two decades, I thought I should visit if I was going to be in the region.
  • Egypt. You can’t really go around the world and not see the Great Pyramid. I am also going to cruise down the Nile, visit Alexandria, dive in the Red Sea and maybe visit a monastery in the Sinai.
  • Jordan. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Also, my favorite movie of all time is Lawrence of Arabia, which was shot in Jordan, so I’d like to see Wadi Rum.
  • Israel. Again, its the Holy Land. Its kind of a big deal. I’d like to swim in the Dead Sea and visit all the religious sights of Jerusalem.
  • Italy. I’m a sucker for Roman ruins and I’ve always wanted to visit the Vatican.

A better question might be why I am not visiting certain places. I want to get back to the US for a few months this spring, so I’m skipping some places like Turkey and Syria for a later time.

@urpisdream Any advice for people trying to figure out how they can start up their own ‘everywhere trip’?

Don’t worry about planning for the trip. Worry about taking care of things at home. There are a million reasons why people don’t take extended trips like this: job, home, family, etc. The actual traveling part is easy. Overcoming what is keeping you from traveling is the hard part.

Figure out how long you are going to be gone and what you need to take care of before you leave. It will be hard to take care of them once you are gone. Make sure you have access to money, talk to your bank, etc.

Don’t worry what people think about you leaving. They will change their mind once you are on the road.

Travel and Tragedy

Posted by on February 9, 2009

Brush Fire in Western Australia

Brush Fire in Western Australia

If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last several days, you’ve probably heard about the brushfires in Australia. I’ve been paying closer attention to that story than I normally would have because I’ve been to many of the places which have been damaged by the fire. I’ve driven through country Victoria, I’ve seen first hand what the conditions are like and I’ve even seen brush fires (albeit nothing on the scale of what is happening now). I even got to see a rather large brush fire up close in Western Australia on my drive from Darwin to Perth.

There are tragedies which happen all around the world all the time. Floods, mudslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire are natural disasters which occur every few months and probably will never end. When you hear these things, there is a ceratin intellectual sympathy for the victims which exists, but it is nothing on par with what you experience when something happens to someone you know. To quote Adam Smith from The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Travel changes that equation. Travel creates a link and changes how you perceive far away events. Everyone in the world saw the events of 9/11 on television. The previous year I had visited the World Trade Center. I had been in the buildings and had a personal grasp of just how big they were. When they were destroyed, it wasn’t just an intellectual outrage at people dying, I was personally flabbergasted at how it was possible for something so large to disappear. That extra feeling came from having been there. Obviously, the closer you were to the event, the bigger the impact would be.

On New Year’s Eve there was a fire in Bangkok which killed 60 people. It was about a kilometer from where I was staying at the time. That night I heard sirens and sounds but had no idea what was going on. The next morning when I read the news, it sort of hit me harder than it would have if I had read about somewhere else. 60 people died……right over there. I heard the sirens. Maybe I met one of the people who died. It drove the story home a bit more than if I had been somewhere else.

Sometimes this can backfire. In the tsunami of 2004, a disproportionate amount of media attention was given to Thailand, in particular Phuket. The tsunami killed almost a quarter of a million people around the world. The death toll in Thailand was over 5,000 which would be a horrible disaster by itself on any other day. Of those 5,000, about half were western tourists. Most of the video of the tsunami which made it to the internet was from Thailand. Thailand was by far the biggest tourist destination hit by the tsunami.

The 5,000 deaths in Thailand, however, were dwarfed by the over 130,000 killed in Indonesia, 35,000 killed in Sri Lanka, and 12,000 killed in India. Yet, a disproportionate amount of attention was given to Thailand because that is where the westerners were and where everyone goes on vacation.

On balance, the ties and connections made by travel are beneficial. The more people can see other places and meet other people, the impact of disasters like these will be more than intellectual curiosities which are quickly forgotten.

Bahrain

Posted by on February 7, 2009

I’m in Bahrain. The flight was exceptionally short from Qatar. The time I spend on the runway was more than the time spent in the air. As far as I could tell, there are no ferries which run from Doha to Bahrain, and unless you are a GCC resident, you can’t take a bus without applying for a Saudi visa. They are working on a bridge between the two countries, but it will not be open for several years.

Bahrain is small. It is one of those countries that is so small, the airport runway shows up on the map. Because of its size and lack of oil, Bahrain has been the traditional finance capital of the Persian Gulf. While there is some construction going on and some new buildings, most of the development here seems to have taken place in the 1970’s and 80s, during the last big oil boom.

The area where I’m staying is in the heart of the city. There are tons of small alleys side streets filled with shops. It almost feels like a movie set. As with the other countries I’ve been to in the Gulf, there are a lot of South Asians (Indian, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis) and Filipinos. More Arabs here seem to be shopkeepers and do manual labor here than in Dubai, Oman or Qatar, but it is still mostly foreign workers.

You can easily tell how big and important the South Asian population here is by turning on the TV. There must have been four or five channels showing cricket matches or talking about cricket.

Yesterday was my first full day in Bahrain and I didn’t do anything. It was Friday, which means that most everything was closed during the day (Friday being the Muslim equivalent of Sunday for Christians). I went to a building that had a bunch of nightclubs and had a beer with a bunch of Filipinos watching a Filipino band. I also stuck my head in the door of a place with an all Arab clientele. It appeared to be a belly dancing bar or something. It wasn’t a strip club or anything, just girls dancing and men drinking alcohol. It was very odd.

On a site news note, you may have noticed that my 53 day daily photo marathon of World Heritage sites has ended. Back to normal photos. I’ll be adding more of the World Heritage sites as I pass through them. I have two more lined up already, and I’ll be hitting the World Heritage jackpot as I get to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

Posted by on February 5, 2009

World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

From the World Heritage inscription:

Founded c. 1350, Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendour.

Ayutthaya is very similar to Skuhothai, except it is a much busier city and the attractions are spread out over a much larger area, not confined to a single park. It is a northern suburb of Bangkok and can easily be reach by taxi or tour bus in 30-60 minutes depending on traffic. They day I went was New Year’s day and all the temples were packed with people.

Using Twitter for Travel

Posted by on February 4, 2009

If you recall, I have written about why you don’t need a guidebook to travel. They are heavy, expensive and out of date. Since I’ve wrote that article, I’ve encountered even more examples of how guidebooks have failed travelers and they had to end up getting information locally anyhow.

But I’m not here to open up that can of worms again….

I want to talk about how great Twitter is for getting information while you are on the road. Twitter is called a “microblogging” platform. You can post messages upto 140 characters. If you think posting 140 character messages is stupid, you aren’t alone. Pretty much everyone things Twitter is stupid when they first hear about it. I thought it was stupid.

Once you start using it, however, it becomes addictive. Twitter is in some respects on a par with my website. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll be notified of my blog posts, but you can also have a conversation on top of that.

Tonight I posted two questions to the world via Twitter:

1) Serious question: how do I remove the smell from a pair of sandals? it is so bad I can’t stand to be near myself.

2) any suggestions for what to do/see in Bahrain?

Below are a sample of the answers I got from people over a period of about 30 minutes. Some people sent me private messages and some people replied via Facebook. (Its a long image, make sure to scroll down)

Within minutes I was able to pick the collective mind of the internet and get some really specific advice for the questions I had. Stinky sandals is pretty general but questions about Bahrain was pretty specific. In both cases, people came through with some pretty good advice.

This is sort of immediacy and specificity is something you will never get on the printed page and is another reason why guidebooks will go the way of the dodo in the 21st Century. Doubt me? @Benjilanyado is currently on a trip to Paris using nothing but Twitter to do research.

I’ll often answer questions from people if it deals with one of the places I’ve been, or if someone has questions about long term travel. Not only do you know who you are dealing with, you have the ability to ask follow up questions, which you can’t do with a guidebook.

If you aren’t on Twitter, give it a shot even if you think it is lame. It is something you really can’t “get” until you try it. If you are thinking of traveling anytime soon, you’ll find it indispensable.

Qatar Went Quickly

Posted by on February 4, 2009

..and so ends my time in Qatar.

I saw the sights, I ate the food, and I took some photos. There isn’t really much more to Qatar. It’s a small country.

Its a fine place. Nothing wrong with it. It isn’t really what you’d call exciting, however. . Sure, you can go ride a dune buggy in the desert, but you can do that anywhere with a desert.

The place I’m staying is cheap, but it is sort of far away from the action in Doha. Getting a taxi is a crap shoot and there is a ton of construction around here and major highways. It isn’t really conducive to walking. It makes it difficult to want to stay here longer when transportation is so difficult.

There is construction in Qatar, but it is nothing on the level of what you see in Dubai. They are doing there own artificial island project here too, but it doesn’t seem as large as any of the Palm projects in Dubai, either.

Doha would be a much more interesting place to visit I think if I hadn’t spent as much time as I did in Dubai. It is to Dubai what Des Monies is to Chicago.

Tomorrow I’m flying to Bahrain, which is sort of a joke of a flight. It is so short you have to begin landing as soon as you take off. The flight is so short, that it should be replaced in a few years by a bridge. Taking a bus to Bahrain is an option, and one that I considered, but getting a special transit visa for Saudi Arabia seemed like a hassle just to sit in a bus for 5 hours. Saudi Arabia does not make it easy to visit their country.

I’ve gotten the impression that Bahrain is sort of the Vegas of the Middle East. It is where Saudis go to drink. I’m sure “Vegas of the Middle East” has to be put in context and it is probably more like the “Branson, Missouri of the Middle East”, minus the Lawrence Welk Theater.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

Posted by on February 4, 2009

World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

From the World Heritage inscription:

Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries. It has a number of fine monuments, illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture. The great civilization which evolved in the Kingdom of Sukhothai absorbed numerous influences and ancient local traditions; the rapid assimilation of all these elements forged what is known as the ‘Sukhothai style’.

Sukhothai is what I wish Angkor would become. While not nearly as large as Angkor, the grounds of Sukhothai is still very large, I’d estimate about the size of Central Park in New York. It is also cared for like a park. The grass is trimmed, the roads are in good shape, there are paved walking paths, and everyone just looks nice. They also offer bikes for going to the various temples, which is a very popular option.

It is one of the least visited tourist attractions I’ve been to in Thailand. It is about midway between Chaing Mai and Bangkok. I’d highly recommend it as a stop if you are going from Bangkok to the north.

Staying Fit On The Road

Posted by on February 3, 2009

One of the biggest problems I’ve had while traveling is staying fit.

I’ve heard many people say that they lose weight while traveling. I can totally understand that. Depending on where you are, you can walk a lot and eat well. When I was in the Pacific and in Japan, I probably lost about 10 pounds. This was because the bad food choices were really limited (and in the case of Japan, I love Japanese food which is good for you) and I was able to walk a lot. If you are on a shoestring budget, you can really cut your calorie intake. In places like Fiji or Samoa, I could go swimming/snorkeling every day, which is a great workout.

Other places I’ve gained weight. Australia was bad because I spent so much time driving and bad food was easily accessible. In Vietnam I could eat like a king for next to nothing. In Taipei there was a 24 McDonald’s a block away, and many of the Chinese food options aren’t necessarily that healthy. I know I’m not a lone in this. Dave from Go Backpacking (who I met in Bali, Indonesia) said he’s also gained some weight while traveling.

My camera bag isnt the biggest thing Im lugging around.

My camera bag isn't the biggest thing I'm lugging around.

The impetus for this article came from a photo posted on Arun Rajagopal’s blog. We went to the Muscat Fest in Oman and he took some photos of me. I am usually alone and there isn’t usually an opportunity for me to have my picture taken. This is one of the few times I’ve been able to have another person take a photo of me that didn’t involve me in a wet suit (and everyone looks good in a wet suit).

It is pretty obvious that I’ve developed a gut. It is not something I’m happy with.

There are obviously a need to do change things moving forward:

1) Buy a pair of sneakers. Believe it or not, I did not pack a par of sneakers with me. My footwear selection was one of the hardest I had to make. I ended up packing a pair of leather Keen shoes. They are find shoes, but they aren’t really made for running. At some point, I should buy a pair of running shoes and send the walking shoes home.

2) Eat better. This is a no brainer, but it is easier in some places than others. The more urbanized and modern a city is, usually the food within short distance of wherever I’m staying is going to be bad. A good rule of thumb (but not perfect) is to eat local food whenever possible. I’ve been trying to consume more fruit and vegetables.

3) Develop a work out routine I can do in a hotel room. I’ve started the 100 Push-Up Challenge and and plan on starting the 200 Sit-Up Challenge. These are both exercises I can do with very little space and zero equipment. Both of these have a related iPod Touch application, which really helps.

4) Try to do more physical activities while traveling. The biggest physical activity I’ve engaged in on my trip is SCUBA diving (yes, it is physical. If you dive 3 or 4 times in one day, you will be exhausted at the end). I haven’t done a lot of hiking. I don’t know how much I can schedule in the next few months, but in the future I’d like to schedule trips around something like this.

If there is anyone out there with suggestions, I’m all ears. The challenges of trying to keep fit with no steady place to live are difficult. If anyone has experienced similar problems, let me know in the comments.