Around The World In 36 Posts

If you’re looking for stories of my trip around the world, this is a good place to start. Here you can find an overview of all the posts I published.

If you don’t have much time or interest, check only the four posts marked in bold. These are wrap-ups of an entire continent (and the last one covers the entire trip) and they include my favorite photos of that time.

Where am I going? – posted on June 17, 2010
So far, so good: Memphis – posted on July 5, 2010
USA Road Trip, part 1 -posted on July 11, 2010
Road trip complete – posted on July 20, 2010
Exit USA, Enter South America – posted on August 3, 2010
Colombia! – posted on August 16, 2010
Salento – getting all Zen in the mountains – posted on August 23, 2010
Gold, Guns, Guerrillas and Gringo tax – Cali, Colombia – posted on August 29, 2010
Ecuador: tries to kill you – posted on September 7, 2010
Peru: first time for everything – posted on September 18, 2010
Earthquakes, Deserts, Incas and Astronauts – posted on September 28, 2010
Peru: hard to leave – posted on October 8, 2010
La Paz: so, so crazy – posted on October 19, 2010
Bolivia: everything, everything, everything – posted on November 1, 2010
Buenos Aires: world class – posted on November 11, 2010
Suramérica es el mejor: wrapping up – posted on November 17, 2010
The Superclasico: world’s craziest football match – posted on November 22, 2010
Australia: heaps good – posted on November 28, 2010
A quick week in New Zealand – posted on December 7, 2010
More tales of Adelaide – posted on December 11, 2010
Back in Backpack: Melbourne & Tasmania – posted on December 21, 2010
Sydney: sure beats Melbourne – posted on January 9, 2011
A Look Back at Australia – posted on January 10, 2011
A quick detour through Hong Kong – posted on January 15, 2011
Thailand: a very pleasant surprise – posted on January 23, 2011
Pai: drowning in a sea of hippies – posted on January 31, 2011
Everything moves slowly in Laos – posted on February 8, 2011
From Laos into Cambodia – posted on February 20, 2011
Cambodia: Between Heaven and Hell – posted on March 5, 2011
Vietnam! – posted on March 13, 2011
Vietnam: love it, hate it, love it again – posted on March 28, 2011
So Long, South East Asia – posted on April 1, 2011
Holy cow, India! A tale of three cities – posted on April 7, 2011
Rajasthan: camels and maharajahs in a furnace – posted on April 19, 2011
Final India: Lots, of Everything, even Beatings – posted on April 28, 2011
A Look Back At A Round The World – posted on May 4, 2011

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A Look Back At A Round The World

Home! I’ve had my Dutch milk & peanut butter sandwich and have complained bitterly about the cold, so I feel pretty reintegrated again. This post will attempt to recap my entire trip as well as show you some of my favorite photos (out of the 10,150 I took in total). It’ll alternate between topic and photo and it’ll be long, so let’s see how far we get.

Best Year Ever? Yes! Definitely. A lifetime’s worth of impressions. A treasure chest of memories. And hopefully, on a personal level, a milestone year.

Hong Kong at sunset, smog shrouding the skyline.

Thank You For Reading. If visits to the blog had tailed off during my trip I probably wouldn’t have bothered to keep it up. But as it stands there are as many readers in April as there were in May. 2,168 visits in total, from 60 countries. And a modern bunch too: 40% using a Mac, only 17% with Internet Explorer. But I think some of you came to the wrong place. Search results that brought visits included ‘buy alpaca meat in england’, ‘is tasmania as boring as adelaide’, and ‘smelly bastards’.

One of Will and Katherine’s cats in North Carolina, USA.

Journey vs Destination. There are a lot of ways from A to B. Plane, train, tuktuk, rickshaw, camel, elephant, in a bus and on a bus, ferry, speedboat, junk, tube, bus, van, jeep, pick-up or ute, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, cable car, tram, subway. And a lot, a lot of walking.

My trusty Dodge Charger in the Appalachian Mountains, USA.

Where Next? It’s impossible to do a trip like this without eventually catching the travel bug. Places I’d like to explore in the future are Nepal & Kashmir, Chile, Bolivia’s jungle and Brazil, India’s southern states, and Marseille/Barcelona.

La Paz, Bolivia, as seen from above.

Hindsight is 20/20. I had no backpacking experience when I embarked on this trip, and as such had to learn everything on the go. If I could have given myself some advice then, it would be to not plan too much. Get my feet on the ground and find my way from there. The most valuable advice never comes out of a guide or a website, but from other travelers.

A curious kid in Pai, Thailand.

The Things I Can Leave Behind. As soon as I’m home, I don’t want to hear another David Guetta song again. His tracks have haunted me through four continents and while they’re good fun there’s only so much of I Got A Feeling one man can handle. Also, I now have an incredible aversion to toast. You would only burn bread if it tastes like crap to begin with, so why even bother? I want my bread soft and never again crispy. Also, squat toilets. Bah. And finally, people taking jumping photos. They’ve been lame for years and it’s just getting worse.

The fisherboats of Taganga, Colombia.

Should You Do It? I think that this trip has been incredible, and it’s definitely something that everything can do. Even with no experience or major aspirations or dreams. As long as you can think on your feet, stay relaxed, and keep an open mind, it’s a surprisingly easy, comfortable, and of course tremendously rewarding experience. A year, though, is a long time. I’m not sure if it was too long, I have no frame of reference for it, but it certainly was an incredibly long time to be away from a lot of people and places.

Self Portrait on Bamboo Island, Cambodia.

The Top Three. Colombia, India, Laos. In that order, if you will. These three countries struck me the most, in being so fascinating, wonderful, welcoming, pleasant, and unvaryingly amazing. It’s impossible to make a similar list with individual places and sights because I’ve been to so many incomparably unique places, but my favorite place to be on this whole trip was probably Bamboo Island (see photo above) – pure paradise.

An inquisitive kangaroo in Adelaide, Australia.

Inverse Insomnia. I had a hard time getting to sleep the other night because my room was too quiet. It was unnerving. I’ve gotten used to nodding off in just about any impossible situation. On a plane taking off, a high-speed busride across a dirt track, overnight on the airport carpet, with Indians outside celebrate their cricket team’s World Cup victory, standing up on a mountaintop in freezing temperatures, on the concrete floor of a rooftop – and all of these while sober.

Monks performing ceremony for deceased in Nong Khiew, Laos.

The World Is A Dirty, Dirty Place. I’ll never get used to squat toilets and fully intend to never acquaint myself with one again. And while India was the epitome of filth, the rest of the world is none too clean either. While traveling it’s essential to find a comfort level of dirty, and accept that things like a hot shower, flushing toilet, or clean sheets are a luxury. But I never had bed bugs, so I count myself lucky.

On the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India.

No Emergency, No Panic. While traveling you encounter your fair share of people who’ve had some bad luck (or bad people) on their trip. I was lucky enough never to have anything stolen from me, also because you start taking ‘security measures’ for granted – locking my bag, chaining it to something when I sleep, having the most important things on my person, not carrying a wallet, using lockers. And, I guess, there are nowhere near as many people praying on innocent backpackers as you might expect.

With a curious monkey in Lopburi, Thailand.

The Costs of a Quarter-Life Crisis. €17,154 – give or take a few euros.

Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Wordle. 23,709 words is the total wordcount of the blog. Some words got used more than others, and after removing the most common ones, here’s what remained as the most frequently recurring words:

More Words, By Others. On a trip like this you have a lot of downtime, and as such I’ve read a ton of books. 32 in total, probably more than in the last ten year combined. They were (in chronological order): The Corner (David Simon), The Razor’s Edge (Somerset Maughm), Where The Blues Began (Alan Lomax), Dune (Frank Herbert), Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt), Brida (Paulo Coelho), Full Circle (Michael Palin), Film World (Ivor Montagu), Welcome To The Monkey House (Kurt Vonnegut), No Country For Old Men (Cormac McCarthy), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), Juliet, Naked (Nick Hornsby), Nine Stories (JD Salinger), Fear and Loathing in America (Hunter S Thompson), Atonement (Ian McEwan), A Sort Of Homecoming (Robert Cremins), The Plot Against America (Philip Roth), Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: And Another Thing (Eoin Colfer), The Man Who Would Be King (Rudyard Kipling), The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), The History Of Love (Nicole Krauss), Life Of Pi (Yann Martel), Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis), A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini), A Walk In The Woods (Bill Bryson), The Man In The High Castle (Philip K Dick), Mansfield Park (Jane Austen), The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time (Mark Haddon), Crime & Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevski), Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie).

My camel Archimedes in the Great Thar Desert of India.

In Conclusion. It’s the sense of adventure that made this trip worthwhile – not knowing from day to day where I’d end up, who I’d meet, what I’d do. And I’ve come to appreciate that the larger the challenge of traveling the greater the reward. In Peru I saw a slogan on a hostel’s wall that read ‘Backpacking: a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget’. It’s rung true this entire time. You don’t need a lot of money to travel. You also don’t need a lot of time. And you don’t need to be looking to find yourself, either. The only you need is the openness to explore, to accept that there will be setbacks, hairy moments, frustrations, and then to not let those distract you from all the amazing things that are happening around and with you. It’s one thing to fulfill the dream you’ve always had, but it’s another to fulfill the one you never knew about. I’ve been lucky enough to do this, and it’s a year I will always carry close to me.

View of the hills around Salento, Colombia.

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Final India: Lots, of Everything, even Beatings

This is the last regular update of my trip. I’ll recap the whole thing next week including favorite photos, but for now let me tell you how the last week or so has been. I’ve traveled through Rajasthan visiting various fortresses, palaces & caves, enjoyed sumptuous luxury, nearly offed myself in 50 degree heat, and then got beaten up by ladies carrying bamboo sticks. Here we go!

Starting in Jodphur’s Blue City (all the walls of all the buildings are painted bright blue), a spectacular sight from the massive fortress overlooking the city from 150 meters above, the air currents carried up the sounds and I could hear a school class singing, brahmin chanting, tuktuks jamming their horns, and the occasional streak of a passing fighter jet. I’m reminded that every day in India I see or do or hear something completely new and so very special.

That night I take to the street and get a whole new experience – to be beaten up by women. Batmar Festival is a Hindu ceremony where women beat young bachelors with bamboo sticks to bless them with luck in finding a wife. Get hit a lot = you’ll get married soon. In a repressed society like India it means an opportunity for boys and girls to talk and flirt, skirting the line between getting hit a little (a sign of blessing and perhaps even affection) and a lot (as bamboo can really hurt). Especially older ladies carry fierce, thick sticks and I got beaten a fair amount, then interviewed by local tv for my efforts.

The next day was complete relaxation: lunch at one of the largest palaces in the world, now part maharajah’s residence, part luxury hotel. It cost me 3000 rupees (45 euros, 3 days’ budget) but I did get a sumptuous meal and was attended by no less than four waiters. Champagne lifestyle on a lemonaide budget…

A quick stop took me through Udaipur (which calls itself City of Lakes, even though they only have two), a pretty city with an excellent vantage point from a nearby hill which I attempted to ascend on a vintage Indian bike. The combination of an 8% incline over 4 km, an incredibly heavy bike without gears, and the 50 degree heat meant I just about passed out from exhaustion, and when the last kilometer turned out to be a set of 11 hairpins I just gave up and walked the last bit. Downhill, though, was of course awesomely fun.

Ahmenabad was my next destination and I got out asap as it kind of sucked. I visited Gandhi’s ashram (what an interesting life and philosophy), and a massive stepwell, ate a lot of icecream, and counted tourists. 12 in two days, on a population of six million. Then it was an unexpected detour to see the Ellora Caves, a series of 34 temples dug into the rocks. Some are simple while others absolutely huge and with such fine detail. Something I had hoped to see, had given up on, but ended up seeing anyway – excellent fortune.

I also watched my first Bollywood movie – ‘Dum Daaro Dum‘. I’ve linked the trailer if you’re curious. It wasn’t a cliche song & dance flick, but a surprisingly well-made crime movie about drug trade in Goa. There were of course songs, and a dance at the end, but what stuck with me most was the relentless energy of the piece. Although it wasn’t in English (they spoke Hindi with the occasional English word or phrase thrown in), nor subtitled, it was easy to follow.

Tonight I head to Mumbai where I will spend the last three days of my trip. Then, on Monday, I fly to London for a quick visit, and the next day I fly home!

Here are my favorite photos of the last week. No photo of the Blue City, I forgot it, but it’s taken me two hours to upload this post so if you really want to see it, check the latest album on Facebook.

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Rajasthan: camels and maharajahs in a furnace

After racing through the northern part of India, I finally arrived in the place I was most curious about: the province of Rajasthan, home to kings of legendary wealth, vast deserts, fairytale fortresses, a blistering array of colors on display everywhere. All that and more in an unrelenting 40+ degree heat.

If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘The Fall‘ you probably remember all the incredible, almost dreamlike landscapes and buildings that feature as backdrops. Most of these places are real, in Rajasthan, and it’s been my pleasure to have visited almost all of them. On my first stop in Jaipur I wandered around the mediaeval observatory of Jantar Mantar filled with wonderful, crazy structures scattered around almost haphazardly, punctuated by a sundial almost thirty meters high, accurate up to two seconds.

I then traveled seven hours to visit another location, the Abhaneri step well, a 12th Century inverted ziggurat shape with a well twenty meters down at the bottom. It took an overcrowded bus with reserved seat, jeeptaxi in wrong direction, jeeptaxi back, jeeptaxi in right direction, rooftop of a bus, back of a motorcycle, local bus, overcrowded bus without reserved seat so standing shoulder to shoulder for 2.5 hours, and another local bus. Worth it, though. It was also nice to be out of a big city for a change, away from the noise and rampant pollution.

With that in mind, I was very glad with my next destination. Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site with a lot of temples. Think 500 temples, 2000 brahmins, on a population of 15,000. It’s a common sight to see people dancing and chanting in the narrow streets. Still, it feels quiet, rustic. No buses, tuktuks, continuous carhorns – such relaxation. I spent four days there not doing terribly much of anything besides wander around the lake on occasion and watch monkeys play.

Then I found myself in Jaisalmer, a massive sandstone fortress at the edge of the Great Indian Desert. It’s crumbling due to overpopulation and generally it’s not recommended to take accommodation inside the fort (as it will only do more damage) but one look inside and I knew I had to stay in that wonderful golden-colored maze. It’s stupid hot there, straight up scalding, so I decided that the best thing to do would be to get on a camel and amble in the desert for a few days. Although the tour was a bit of a wash (if you look back you can see the windmill park), I did get to sleep on a sand dune under the full moon and I got caught in a sandstorm, so that was all cool.

Some random India observations. I have since gotten attacked by a cow, one who came charging at me when I was walking along the road in the evening. And Indian people are weird. I’m keeping a list of all the strange questions they ask me out of the blue. They are very curious and earnest and have no concept of private space. I can imagine how it can get annoying over time, but as I’m only here for a month I just sit back and enjoy it.

Here are some photos. Click to see them bigger.

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Holy cow, India! A tale of three cities

India. The final destination of my trip. I’ve been on a whirlwind couple of days, getting through Calcutta, Varanasi and Agra, and every place has been a wonder in its own right.

I had timed my arrival in Calcutta with the Cricket World Cup final, played in Mumbai with India battling Sri Lanka for the trophy. The city ground to a halt as everybody was watching on any television available. India won and there was complete pandemonium in the streets, not of the usual kind, but an enormous elation and happiness. It went on deep into the night, and many hugs, chants and dances were had.

I thought I would be clever by doing India last so I would be prepared for it. I was wrong – nothing can prepare you for India. It’s so vastly different from any place I visited. It’s loud, chaotic, busy, charming, disgusting, all at the same time. The poverty is striking and everpresent, and it’s difficult to look past it. Still, Calcutta was an easy introduction, and it was Varanasi that would be really challenging.

I’d been looking forward to visiting Varanasi since planning this trip. I’d visited another center of religion, Jerusalem, which had impressed me greatly, so I was very curious to see what the focal point of Hinduism would be like. And it was overwhelmingly amazing. It’s India at its most ‘Indian’. Think cows blocking alleys, snake charmers, piles of rotting rubbish, monkeys scampering across rooftops, music pounding, rikshas crisscrossing traffic, huge crowds – the whole deal. But it’s much more than that still. Intense, enchanting, bewildering, maddening, and ultimately a strongly affecting throng of humanity. And that’s before you witness the outdoor cremation ceremonies.

To die in Varanasi is to be liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth, and bodies are burned under piles of firewood, their ashes slipping through grates in the floor and mixed with water, then flushed into the Ganges river. The same river used for bathing by thousands. The same river all of Varanasi’s sewage is dumped into. Water safe for bathing may contain 500 faecal bacteria per liter – the Ganges there contains 3000 times as much! The city is unbelievably dirty. Urine flows in streams, there’s excrement everywhere (cow, goat, dog, man), piles of rotting food, clouds of flies, dogs eating cow shit, you name it. At times it’s an assault on the senses and you always watch your step but it’s just a part of the spectacle of life unfolding everywhere around you.

Then it was on to Agra, to visit the uber-famous Taj Mahal. The first glimpse is breathtaking. I had mine on my hotel’s rooftop, as I turned around and saw the massive white dome baking in sunlight. Truly stunning, and I was well excited to visit at dawn the next day. It didn’t disappoint – it’s quite possibly the most beautiful building I’ve seen on this trip. Perfect from every angle, every distance. Its size imposes from afar and awes from up close. Like all of India so far: spellbinding.

So yeah, I’m loving India. Yesterday my bus never appeared so I hitched a ride on the highway, ended up on some backstreets of Agra, then shared a tuk-tuk with seven people (plus the driver, and two babies) to get close-ish to my hotel. Traveling is an adventure again and I like it very much. I can also happily report that my bowels are still functioning fine, a small miracle with all the (delicious) street food I’ve eaten so far.

Tomorrow morning I head to Jaipur in the province of Rajasthan, where I intend to spend two weeks traversing the province visiting various fortresses, palaces, painted cities, and to ride a camel through the Great Indian Desert. It’ll be hot as hell, it’ll be awesome.

Here are some photos but I’d recommend checking out the whole album on Facebook here – it’s my favorite collection of photos so far.

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