Sunday, August 24, 2008


$11,000 - total trip cost
  • $3800 - total airfare
  • $4400 - money spent during travels, excluding diving
  • $1500 - scuba diving
  • $800 - vaccinations, insurance, pills*
  • $500 - pre-trip shopping (camera mostly)
* - this is the most I've ever heard anyone pay for v, i, p. Unfortunately, Cambodia + India + Ghana = every single vaccination "strongly recommended."

$9,000 - vague amount budgeted for trip before serious planning
$10,700 - amount budgeted after research
$300 - amount over budget
2.8% - percent over budget
9 - how awesome that is (10-point scale)

30,800 - number of miles traveled
11 - countries visited (excluding America)
32 - cities/towns/whatever visited
6 - cities/towns/whatever where the temperature broke 100 degrees while I was there. Not 90, not 95. 100.

- nights of the trip
18 - nights spent in buses, trains, ferries, streets, airports, or stations
32 - hot showers (I'm shocked at how high this number is.)

$8.20 - average cost of a night's stay throughout the trip
$39 - most expensive bed: very last day of the trip, in Morocco
$2.80 - least expensive bed: Siwa oasis, in Egypt

24 hours - longest flight: Chicago > LA > Taipei > Kuala Lumpur
17 hours - longest train ride: Sungai Golok > Bangkok
4 hours - longest ferry ride: Nuweiba > Aqaba
31 hours - longest bus ride: Srinagar > Agra*

* - That's a 550-mile journey. It's like that joke, where a farmer boasts that he'd have to drive all day to reach the end of his farm, and the other guy says, "Yeah, I used to have a car like that, too."

60 - approximate number of posts mailed to the States
39 - passport stamps and stickers collected on the trip (most countries give a visa stamp/sticker, entry stamp, exit stamp)
12 - currencies dealt with
$20 - money "lost" due to botched conversions (beats the time I missed a zero in Japan, and Mom and I went to a conspicuously fancy $16 meal in Tokyo...)
$600 - cash hidden in my money belt or backpack at the start of the trip
$600 - if I could redo the trip, how much I would have brought in cash. It was perfect.
2 - number of days lost to illness (altitude sickness in Leh)
0 - number of times I was even remotely bothered by stomach/food/GI-issues
wow - yeah, wow to that last one!

Days required to readjust to life at home? I'll tell you once I find out.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

home sweet home

My dad always says: "You know, your grandma always said: 'It's good to want to go on vacation, and it's good to want to come home.' And she's right."

And he's right.

Groggy in Casablanca, barely catching the train to head to the airport to catch a plane to NYC to catch a Chicago-bound flight (thanks for rescheduling my flights, travel agent Kyle!)... well, it sounds like the start of a bad day. But I was just too excited to see my folks, to walk on American soil, to be home.

After circling above Cape Cod for 2 hours while waiting for clearance to land at JFK, the pilot just gives up and decides to land in Bangor, Maine. Being delayed several hours and missing a flight is tragedy, but landing in Bangor, Maine instead of New York City? That's comedy.

Imagine if someone had never seen New York City. His first time on an airplane, imagination running wild. Skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty, Tiffany's, 5th Ave, Coney Island, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan; he's just so excited. New York City. He wakes up, after dreams of the Big Apple, of America, of New York City! Looks out the window, and there it is. Bangor, Maine.

Now, unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), the airport of Bangor, Maine is not exactly an international hub*. In fact, there are no international facilities. No visa service, no customs, no entry stamps. We're not allowed off the plane.

* - see this entry's comments RE these totally incorrect statement.

Just as we're getting hungrumpy, maybe an hour and a half, we lift off for a short hop to the real NYC. Land at 9pm. Next flight to Chicago is 8am, so after a failed attempt to catch some z's in a little corner of the arrival hall, a single-serving friend and I have wheelchair races all around the empty airport 'til the wee hours of the morn, when our vehicles are confiscated by a guard who looked like she'd never had an ounce of fun in her life, and was jealous. So then my newfound friend regales me with incredible stories of his 4-year tour of Iraq, and we get some muffins when Au Bon Pain finally opens at 5am. Sit around 'til 8am, and I'm off to Chicago.

Mom picked me up at O'Hare International. Due to Dad's work schedule and my extra day of transit, I won't get to see him 'til tomorrow morning, when he comes home from Loyola Medical. How sad! And my brother and sister? They're somewhere between Egypt and Jordan currently. I guess wanderlust runs in the family. We like to travel.

But man oh man, is it nice to come home, too! Freshly-shaved, showered, and fed. I'm putting my photos on the computer as I type, and as soon as Mom gets up from her nap, we're taking a walk. I like walking with Mom.


So, I'm home! And you know what? American computers, American internet: I can put up photos and videos that I couldn't before. Let's do it! Here, some videos.

"leading" hephalumps to the river kwai to drink

tak bat in laos

leh, narrated in a 900-number voice (I was sick, remember...)

nageen lake, in kashmir, whose surface is smooth as glass

random rockshaw ride in agra

let's go diving. i'll just take this camel here.

tour group buses in egypt

magic box in ghana

stroll through medival fes

Ooooh, and here are some Ghana photos, too!

Start with the best photo of the trip:

That photo was from this school... once they noticed I had a camera.

Is that an abruni?! It IS!

Ice cream and cute little kids? Ghana is the best!

Even the flies are nice. Have you ever seen such a pretty fly?

The whole place is pretty. West African art is awesome. Remember those two statues I fell in love with? Are these great statues, or are these the best statues? Colonial art 4eva!

Here's the fishing town of Cape Coast.

Another Cape Coast scene.

Everybody balances stuff on their heads. Here the vendors are waiting for traffic to roll up.

Cape Coast has some former slave forts. This one's called Cape Coast Fort.

Here's a view from the e-walk in Kakum National forest. Good stuff.

Ghana, I like you.

And why not, here are a couple Morocco shots:

Alleyways with great tiled fountains scattered throughout.

Poke around a mosque, and head back to the market roads.

Oooh, I can't afford dinner at this riad, but tea sounds perfect.

Some of the other terrace-crashing travelers bid me a hero's goodbye.

Unfortunately, the plane got a little confused:

But you already heard that story. Actually, that brings you up to date entirely, right up to me sitting here, typing this sentence you just finished.

I'll put up another post in a few days or so with a few numbers and things, but there's one thing I want to mention right now:

I honestly, honestly, honestly didn't expect anyone to keep tabs on this little blog. My folks, and myself, and that's it, really. But the occasional email notes or blog comments, so totally unexpected, were just such a treat of this trip. That really, really made me smile.

Hmmm, that didn't come out as vitriolic* and impassioned as I was hoping, but you'll have to forgive me -- last time I slept was thirty-some hours ago in northern Africa -- but here's the point: thanks.

* - hmm, turns out that word does not mean what I thought it meant.

Thanks for keeping in touch, for checking in and following along and saying hello and all that good stuff. It was just so unexpected, and you all made my day time and time again.

So thanks for that.

Now I think I'm gonna snuggle up in my big fat comfy bed, under some big fat comfy blankets, in my clean air-conditioned room, and dream of more big adventures. Good night everybody, and sweet dreams.

Monday, August 4, 2008

goodbye ghana, hello morocco

Damn you computers!

So the blog was doing well until Ghana, where computers just took too darn long. And I thought surely, SURELY in Morocco these machines would be lickety-split and we'd be back on track. And they ARE lickety-split, but they won't load my photos! Quelle domage! (But at least I can check on the Cubs now.)

The highlights of the last few days in Ghana?

1 - Sam and Carl coach rugby at a local school; let's join! 3 tro-tros later, we get off at Pig Farm (no joke), and... man I wish I had photos. It's tough to explain how excited Ghanaian kids get at seeing abruni. They just stampede right at you. Teachers came around with switches to keep the kids off me, and I still ended up with a trickle of blood running down my cheek from a zealous boy who needs to clip his nails. I bought some oranges and juggled for the group (I think Sophie got some photos of that), and threw the oranges one by one into the crowd afterwards. Sam was just staring at me in disbelief, like "what made you think that was a good idea?!" You'd think these oranges were winning lottery tickets. Little girls were being trampled underfoot; it was like a soccer riot. It was positively surreal.

2 - Colin Powell, the geography whiz from whom I bought some masks and stuff, stopped by Crystal Hostel and had a few beers with us. That's very Ghanaian. People are just instafriends. It's wonderful.

3 - Headed down to Labadi beach in Accra for Reggae night. Bonfires, live Ghanaian music and dancers (how good are African dancers?!) and wading in the dark African surf. It was a blast.

4 - The sink in Labadi beach's bathroom didn't work, so a worker was there ladling water from a bucket for you to wash your hands. The worker told me the bathroom was 50 cents -- it's common for public bathrooms to cost money; in Egypt some had admission tickets, like it was a train -- and I only had a $1 note. He said thank you, and I said no, I need change. So okay, let's go to the bar and get change. I start walking and he half-follows, then slinks back. This is very not Ghanaian. I say, aloud, "Hey, you owe me change." Suddenly one of the other workers gets angry with him, "If you owe him money, give him his money!" and a middle-aged woman starts hitting him over the head with a stick, furiously reprimanding, "Kofi, you know that bathroom is free! Give him his money back! It is not right to cheat people! Give him his money!" Wow.

5 - Folks told me a cab to the airport should cost about $7. In most poor countries, a cabbie would see that I'm white and going to the airport, and demand $20 and it'd be a 5-minute ordeal. In Ghana:

"To the airport, how much?"

Honesty makes me so happy. I gave him seven. At the airport, my $2.50 snack became $2 when there was no correct change. Thanks Ghana. You get an A-.

Why the minus? Ghana's bugs are pretty unbelievable. The flies are irridescent yellow and green and blue. They're the most gorgeous flies I've ever seen. I took pictures of them. But wait, that's a plus, not a minus! No, the minus comes from the the deet-resistant biowarfare mosquitocopters. The bites are enormous; I looked like a smallpox victim. Even with anti-malarials, one person at the hostel got malaria. And the poor sap who didn't bother with anti-malaria medication? She made it about 3 days before the inevitable.

Despite that somewhat serious health hazard, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Never did I think I'd see such an amazing marriage of poverty and happiness. It's absolutely inspiring.

On to Morocco.

After a red-eye to Morocco, I found a hotel and spent the day in Casablanca. The weather in Ghana, Egypt, Dubai... actually, this whole trip!, well, comparatively, the breezy 82-degree Moroccan air was absolute heaven. But street-side cafes and friendly locals just weren't able to compensate for Casablanca's concrete aesthetic, so I took a very 1st-world train to Fez, which is where I am right now. I damn near cried when the train doors opened and I was blasted with 104-degree air -- why can't I escape this extreme heat?! -- but the old medina in Fez is AH-MAZE-ING. It's lauded as the largest car-free area in any city in the world. Why no cars? They simply don't fit. The old medina is 1200 years old, with cobbled streets and markets and the tiniest alleyways all winding tortuously around like exploring ants. It's gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous. And while Hotel Cascades was sorta full, you can sleep on a mat on the roof terrace for 50 dirham ($7) a night, which is just too cool for words (though I'm not a fan of the "ALLAH AKBAAAAAAAAAAAR MUHAMMAD RESULU ALLAAAAAAAAAAAAAH" calls to prayer ringing out in the worst hours of the night). Last night I used a small melon as a pillow. I figure I'll spend the rest of my trip right here.

And they have vegetarian food!!! Oh how I miss you, rare variety!

Today is the 4th. Assuming my flight issue gets worked out (shifting flights have shortened my NYC layover from 3 hours to negative 1 hour), I get home on the 8th. Oh America, with your hot showers and potable tap water and sit-down toilets and bearable heat, how I miss you so! But I love love LOVE traveling, and I don't want this to end. I know I won't be home 3 days before I wish I were exploring again.

But wait, right now, I'm in the ancient walled medina of Fez, with alleyways pulsing with culture and history and a million lives, and I'm sitting here at a computer?! No no no, this is all wrong.

I gotta go explore.